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.
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.