Reckon you know Reckitts?

Published: Wednesday 10th January 2018 by Courtney Farrow

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Established in Hull in the nineteenth century, Reckitts (now known as RB) grew to become a globally renowned company for household cleaners and pharmaceuticals.

We’ve teamed up with Hull Museums to take a closer look at the rich history of this family business that is so deeply rooted in the city.

It all started with a man called Isaac Reckitt. He rented a small starch making factory on Dansom Lane in East Hull. An entrepreneur through and through, Isaac had embarked on two business ventures before this. Unfortunately, his milling company had been ruined by a succession of poor harvests and his Nottingham-based corn enterprise never made a profit.

However, after a decade of hard work, Isaac’s starch factory went from strength-to-strength, even branching out to laundry blue and blackening. Founded way back in 1840, nowadays RB manufactures many well-known labels, including Dettol, Harpic and Lemsip.

Reckitts were pioneers in every sense of the word. In 1850, half of their 51-strong workforce were women. This kickstarted a tradition of large-scale female employment in Hull, which continued to shape the city throughout the twentieth century.

The company was truly family-orientated, too. Much of the early successes were achieved by Isaac’s two eldest sons, George and Francis. They travelled around the area as sales representatives to advertise and promote the brand.

In fact, the pair and their younger brother James were left with an equal share of the company when Isaac passed away in 1862. Frederic, the fourth son, retained his job as the chief chemist in the laboratories.

It was in these labs that a number of pharmaceutical goods were being developed, and by the late 1920s Reckitts had expanded its range to produce liquid antiseptic that was not corrosive to the skin. Later, the first bottle of Dettol was made in the city.

Reckitts was so successful that it merged with rival competitor J. Coleman in 1938. This was a positive move, as it meant that the company now had a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the food industry. By this point, Reckitts products spanned across several sectors.

A similar merger in 1999 with Benckiser N.V. enabled Reckitts to grow to be the world’s largest household cleaning products company and an international leader in its field. Despite this, the manufacturing giant has never forgotten its roots and still runs its pharmaceutical department from the Damson Lane site.

You can find out more about Reckitts along with Hull’s history at the Hull Streetlife Museum on the High Street. Free to enter, it’s open 10am-5pm Mon-Sat and 11am-4:30pm Sunday.

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Published: Wednesday 10th January 2018 by Courtney Farrow

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