The W. T. Rawleigh Company, Freeport, IL

Much like their historical competitor, the J. R. Watkins Medical Co., the W. T. Rawleigh Company of Freeport, IL, used direct sales through a fleet of door to door salesmen to build their business.  The Rawleigh Company advertised their scientific practices to deliver quality ingredients to their customers.  Though smaller now than it its heyday, the Rawleigh Company is still around, selling their products to their loyal customers.

bottle embossed “Rawleigh’s, TRADEMARK”


According to the Stephenson County, IL Historical Society

Mr. Rawleigh began his career at the age of nine by selling Mineraline Ink to schoolmates and country storekeepers. At the age of 17 his observation of men who called at his home selling farm medicines awakened in him the realization of the potential involved in this type of operation. An agile mind and fertile imagination, coupled with natural organizational genius, urged him to persuade his father to let him work for a neighbor as a farmhand ($20 a month) so he could make money to get started selling farm medicines. He earned $120 that summer and gave $100 of it to his parents. His father still objected to the young boy’s idea of selling but by spring finally gave permission, though he refused to provide the boy with money for freight and other starting expenses. He did however let him use a horse and helped him to buy a rig.”I was young, and green as a cucumber,” Mr. W.T. Rawleigh, affectionately known as “W.T.” later wrote. “I had practically no business experience. I had lived away from home but a few months. The only experience I had had was in making ink and selling books…but I packed my clothes, said farewell and departed to Stephenson County, Illinois.”

Three years later he was successful enough to start advertising. With Mrs. Rawleigh’s help, cooperation and support, he began to make his own products in their home. Soon after that, he mortgaged his home, borrowed money from all available sources and started his first small factory and laboratory in a rented building downtown.

Six year later in 1898 he built his first factory building, located on Douglas Avenue in the residence district of Freeport. In a laboratory in that building, Mr. J.R. Jackson, his brother-in-law, under Rawleigh’s supervision, made careful tests and established new standards of strength and uniformity.

In 1924, Rawleigh began curing vanilla in Mexico and the West Indies, and in the same year opened a branch in Marseille, France and bought plantations in Madagascar and its dependencies, opened a vanilla office in Tamatave and began to cultivate, cure and buy vanilla. He did this because at that time the vanilla industry was highly inflated, closely controlled and manipulated and prices were about double what they should have been.

When Rawleigh had accumulated abundant stocks of vanilla he proceeded to fight the monopoly that was strangling the islands and which monopolized the vanilla market at an artificial price of $9.50 a pound, F.O.B. New York, the highest price ever known up to that time. He first printed a series of vanilla market reports calling attention to the fact that there was no real shortage of vanilla supplies, that crops were above normal and abundant stocks were in the hands of dealers and speculators. He further pointed out the fact that despite these conditions the artificial price of $9.50 prevailed. Rawleigh was so successful in his fight against this monopolistic practice that during the first year of his fight, he successfully reduced the price of vanilla from the artificial high of $9.50 a pound to $2.50-$3.00 a pound.

Foreign branches were started in 1925 at St. Mary’s Island, Reunion Island, Mexico, Grand Comore Island to secure raw materials at lower prices. On Zanzibar and Pemba Islands large staffs of employees were buying, cleaning, packing and shipping Rawleigh quality cloves. In Japan and elsewhere in the Far East, Rawleigh employees were busy making studies, investigating crops and markets for menthol, camphor, peppermint, cassia, black pepper, nutmegs and other raw materials.

In line with Rawleigh’s unflagging efforts to pioneer and discover new markets and supplies, as well as to modernize and update his factory operations, Rawleigh’s glass bottle factory was built at Freeport in 1926 to make the carload of bottles that was being used every working day at the Rawleigh factories. The glass furnace tank held 150 tons of molten glass (about 2600 degrees F.) which was heated by blasts of producer gas. Three forming machines supplied automatic feeders with a capacity of 60 bottles per minute.

The story continues, according to Vance Lauderdale of the Memphis City magazine,

Rawleigh was a forerunner of the “direct-to-customer” method, meaning you bought their products by mail or from door-to-door salesmen. Then as now, you won’t find Rawleigh products in any store. Their method certainly worked; by 1920 Rawleigh had more than 22 million customers.The company built sprawling manufacturing plants in several cities across America. The 110,000-square-foot facility at 139 Illinois [in Memphis] opened in 1912 and was the largest Rawleigh plant in the country, making patent medicines, cosmetics, insecticides, and spices.

In 1958, the big manufacturing operation here shut down. The buildings were converted into warehouses for the company.

Rawleigh finally closed its Memphis division completely in the late 1970s, and the complex  — which is actually three adjoining buildings — was sold. In recent years it has been used as a production and distribution facility for John Simmons’ gift and art company, Carnevale, among other things.

The W.T. Rawleigh Company is still around, and has adapted to the changing times by setting up a handy website where customers can purchase their products online.

Rawleigh salesman with horse-drawn wagon. It sold medical supplies, flavored extracts and ground spices. The motto was “You don’t pay until you are satisfied”. This is wagon #534, belonged to the W.T. Rawleigh Medical Co., Freeport, IL. Postcard made November 12, 1909 by photographer Resier on an AZO back.

1917 edition of the Rawleigh’s Almanac, Cook Book and Medical Guide. Front.

1917 edition of the Rawleigh’s Almanac, Cook Book and Medical Guide. Back.

Postcard with Bird’s Eye View of Main Laboratories, The W.T. Rawleigh Company.
Description reads “The building in the foreground on the other side of the card is the largest in the world devoted exclusively to the manufacture of proprietary medicines. Its nine floors are equipped with the very latest machinery for the manufacture of Rawleigh Quality Products, and it is the center of attraction for visitors and tourists. In its construction 300 tons of steel, 15,000 barrels of cement, about 800 carloads of sand and gravel, 50 carloads of other material and half a million vitrified brick, were used. This great building, with its 157,00 sq. ft. of floor space, was built in 1914 and is but one of the many factory buildings necessary in producing sufficient Rawleigh Household and Farm Remedies to meet rapidly increasing demand resulting in Repeat Orders from satisfied users-a most expressive and substantial endorsement from ten million users.”

Postcard, undated. Text reads: “To secure accuracy and uniformity of Rawleigh Products all raw materials and finished products are scientifically and accurately tested by chemists before, during and after formulation. Thus the High Standard of Excellence in Quality if maintained and it is but one of many measures taken to insure perfect satisfaction to consumers of Rawleigh products. IN 1925 the W. T. Rawleigh Company established the First, and now maintains the largest, finest and most completely equipped, Analytical Laboratory conducted by any company of its kind in the world.”

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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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20 Responses to The W. T. Rawleigh Company, Freeport, IL

  1. Pingback: Farm Fleet Freeport Illinois | Our Farm

  2. Christy Sullivan says:

    Recently we purchased an old home, built in 1883. We found many old bottles, one is a Raleigh’s clear bottle simular to the first picture listed on this site. There are no visible markings, except for the name on the front. I would love to know the history! Our kids find these bottles facinating!

    Thank You,
    Christy Sullivan
    Michigan

    • Jessica says:

      Hi Christy, thanks for reading. I don’t have any further details about the manufacture of the bottle itself. Without other markings, further details may be difficult to track down. There may be resources available on bottle collector forums that could provide you more details.

    • Raleigh says:

      Christy, Great find. You can really teach your kids some good history with these things. So just a few helpful hints. As far as the tins of spices, salve, etc, look at the back for the company’s address. The US government didn’t start using the zip code system until the early sixties. So if it doesn’t have a zip code with the address, you know that it is prior to the early 60’s. With respect to the glass bottles, this company went to a screw on cap in the early 1920’s. So generally if it is a cork type bottle then it is going to be pre-1920. After that you have to look at how the glass was made to date the bottles, but I don’t remember the specifics of how you do that. Hope that helps.

    • rob says:

      Just found old bottle white with cover call 2075954062 don’t use email sorry

  3. Linda says:

    quite interested in knowing if Rawleighs has official website. thank you.

  4. Gloria (Lutz) Aszmies says:

    My Dad, William Lutz, was a Rawleigh’s door to door salesman in Southwestern Ontario based in the Waterloo area sometime in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. I wonder if there are any records which would tell me what years he worked for Rawleighs. It was before I was born.

  5. Kelly R says:

    I have an old Rawleighs clear bottle. It only says Rawleighs Trademark and is similar to the one at the top of the page. Except this one appears to have a metal lid and is still full of whatever brown product was originally in it. Any history on this one?

    • Jessica says:

      I can’t tell you any more about the bottle. I don’t know where they were blown or from where they were distributed, or what was in each bottle type, I don’t have any of those records. But I can tell you this much with total confidence: Don’t ingest the contents of that bottle!

    • Raleigh says:

      The Rawleigh Company used a cork type bottle until the early 19020’s. In the early 20’s they switched to the screw on lid. If it has a label still on the bottle then look at the back for the company address. The US government did not start using the zip code system until the early 60’s so if it doesn’t have a zip code in the address then that will also help you narrow the date.

      • MY FATHER, FILLMER HEVENER, SR., SOLD RAWLEIGH PRODUCTS IN VIRGINIA AND WEST VIRGINIA DURING THE 1940’S-60’S. MANY CUSTOMERS WERE DEVOTED TO THE LINE OF PRODUCTS, ESPECIALLY THE GARDEN DUST. A NUMBER OF TIMES I VISITED THE RAWLEIGH OFFICES AND SHIPPING BUILDING IN RICHMOND, VA. THE SALES MANAGER WAS A MR. DRIGGERS. MY MOTHER, ESTIE HEVENER, USED THE PRODUCTS FAITHFULLY IN HER KITCHEN AND GARDEN. IF YOU WISH TO CONTACT ME, MY EMAIL IS FHEVENER@OILART. COM. I FOUNDED AND PASTOR GUTHRIE MEMORIAL CHAPEL, FARMVILLE, VA. http://WWW.GUTHRIEMEMORIAL.ORG. THE RAWLEIGH COMPANY WAS A BLESSING TO OUR FAMILY. WE THANK GOD FOR SUCH INDIVIDUALS AS W.T. RAWLEIGH. DR. FILLMER HEVENER, JR.

  6. David J. Vohlken says:

    W. T. Rawleigh was my mother’s uncle. I met him once at his estate as an awe-struck pre-teen in the late 40’s. He was a great man who played a large role in the lives of his family and others in his sphere of influence, which extends to this day!

  7. Patti Keller says:

    I found a “Sample of Mexican Vanilla Bean” in a 8″ glass tube inside it’s original yellow box that slides open, from the WT Raleigh Co. It says on box “Represents the largest lot of Vanilla Beans ever purchased in the world” it is a free sample of a whole vanilla bean, additional bean in tube was available for 20 cents by mail. Can you please give me a date for this?

  8. DONALD FADALE says:

    WHAT’S THE SMIPLEIES WAY TO SELL RAWLEIGH PRODUCTS

    • Darci Douglass says:

      Mr. Fadale,
      The company has just gone through a change and is back to its original foundations using the W.T. Rawleigh name. You may contact me if you so choose. I have been a “distributor”(this is an obsolete title at this time) since 1989. My name is Darci Douglass. My e-mail address is JesusInMe4Ever@sbcglobal.net.

  9. Mary Len Greening says:

    Stilling looking for the coconut cream pie filling packet, got one from friend in Prairie Du Sac WI, back in 1976. is this the Rawleigh Co?

  10. STEWART FISH says:

    RAWLEIGH’S HAD A FARM THAT PRODUCED THE BEST SAUSAGE TO EVER EXIST. I SURE WISH THEY WOULD BRING THAT BACK

    • David J. Vohlken says:

      Heartily agree about the sausage. My mother owned stock in the W. T. Rawleigh Co., so she made sure we never missed the annual run of sausage! David Vohlken

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