J. R. Watkins Medical Company

Once the largest direct-sales company in the world, Watkins now occupies a specialty niche market with its natural home and personal care products.

Bottle embossed “J. R. Watkins Med Co. / J. R. Watkins / President”



According to the J.R. Watkins Company website,

Joseph Ray Watkins founded Watkins Incorporated in 1868 from the kitchen of his home in Plainview, Minn. Made from camphor (extracted from evergreen trees) and capsicum (from red peppers), Original Liniment offered relief for tired, aching muscles. J.R. Watkins was so confident of his home-manufactured natural product that he introduced the now famous Watkins “Trial Mark” bottle, along with the first-ever money back guarantee.

By 1885 the production of Liniment had outgrown his home and the town of Plainview, so he moved the company to the booming lumber town of Winona, Minn., which boasted five railroads and was already an important port on the Mississippi River. In Winona, J.R. Watkins incorporated his company as the J. R. Watkins Medical Company. At the turn of the century, the company’s expanded product line included an array of natural consumables for everyday living, including Medicinal Salves, Vegetable Oil Soap, Rose Perfume, and many natural spices and extracts.

Originating as a rural business, by the 1920’s demand was clearly growing beyond farming communities for J.R. Watkins’ natural concoctions and he expanded his reach into the urban centers. In 1913, J.R. Watkins had already added Canada to his distribution and by the 30’s the J.R. Watkins Medical Company was a thriving international corporation with facilities and distribution in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England. Today, J.R Watkins continues to operate internationally, with products sold in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and the Philippines.

Since its beginnings, Watkins has been family owned and operated. J. R. Watkins’ descendents—Watkins and Kings—guided the company through its first 110 years. In 1978 Irwin L. Jacobs purchased Watkins, and the Jacobs family continues the Watkins’ tradition of manufacturing the highest quality products and providing outstanding service that exceeds expectations.”

According to the Minnesota Historical Society Press, “The secret to Watkins’s success lay not only in his money-back guarantee but also in his sales force, a well-trained, highly motivated bunch that sold his products door-to-door.”

Daniel W. Pflueger and his traveling Watkins Store.

Watkins man and wagon in Redwood County

Watkins Man and family with wagon

The Watkins Company also produced publications, including a yearly almanac.

“Watkins Almanac, Home Doctor and Cookbook” 1913

“50th Anniversary Almanac, Home Doctor and Cookbook 1917”

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About Jessica

I am the supervisor of the analysis of the archaeological collection recovered from the Old Main excavation.
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9 Responses to J. R. Watkins Medical Company

  1. Pingback: The W. T. Rawleigh Company, Freeport, IL | Old Main Artifacts

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  5. Lyle says:

    I have two Watkins trial mark bottles, I am looking for more information on them.

  6. Lydia Bryant says:

    I just found a cookbook of my mother’s. It had her grandmother’s name in it so apparently it belonged to the grandmother. My mom just passed in April of this year. She was 90 yrs. old. That makes this book very very old. The title is Watkins Cook Book. The recipes all look great! So it is now in the third generation of my family.

    Lydia Bryant

  7. Sheila Sonka says:

    I also have a copy of the Watkins Cook Book that belonged to my mother-in-law. Copyright date is 1936. 192 pages and looks like new.

  8. Jeff Smith says:

    I have found an old Jr Watkins trail mark bottle and it still has cork and liquid inside. The label is still on the bottle but is hard to read fro m age. It does say coughs and colds, but also laxative is also visible. interested in knowing more!!!

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