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From humble beginnings in Plainview, Minn., to a multi-national company, one thing has stayed the same: Our commitment to making hard-working products from high-quality natural ingredients.
We've made our products in the same factory for over a hundred years. Take a tour in this short film.
The Product That Started It All
Wash and iron; cook and clean; repeat. Such was life for many women in 1868. But times were changing. Elizabeth Blackwell opened the first Women’s Medical College. Louisa May Alcott captured the period’s ideals and values in Little Women. And, hard-working wives and mothers with tired, aching muscles found relief in a new, all-natural liniment manufactured and sold by Joseph Ray Watkins.
Working out of his Plainview, Minn., home, J.R. Watkins made the one-of-a-kind pain reliever with camphor from evergreen trees and capsicum from red peppers. Still sold today, the Pain Relieving Liniment is now 96.5% natural and uses eco-friendly packaging.
“The Watkins Way”
From the beginning, J.R. Watkins has been committed to providing high-quality products and excellent customer service. Watkins first introduced the “Trial-Mark Bottle” and America’s first money-back guarantee in 1869. Relying on door-to-door sales, Watkins gave customers a risk-free way to try his products by adding a molded “trial mark” to each bottle. Customers who used the natural products and stayed above the mark could get a full refund.
Growing and Moving
Winona, Minn., was a thriving logging town, a transportation hub for southeastern Minnesotta and the state's 4th largest city, J.R. Watkins selected the bustling town as the second home for Watkins Incorporated. By 1894, Watkins had renamed his business as The J.R. Watkins Medical Company.
Spicing Up the Product Line
The Lumière Brothers made their first motion picture, media moguls spiced up the newspaper with cartoon comic strips and Watkins spiced up its product offerings. The expanded line up included Vanilla Extract, Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Ginger, Paprika, Peppermint Extract, and Lemon Extract.
A Monumental Building
One short year after J.R. Watkins’ death, the company celebrated completion of its Winona, Minn., administration building. Watkins had commissioned the famous architect George W. Maher to design the monumental building, which is accented with a 70-foot high rotunda dome coated in 24-carat gold leaf, a blue Bedford stone façade, 224 stained-glass skylights and three, custom-made Tiffany stained glass windows.
Considered architecturally and historically significant, the building is part of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ multi-media prairie school collection and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Watkins Manufacturing Facility
Between 1889 and 1914, Watkins constructed six manufacturing building behind the Winona Administration Building. In 1914, a prominent ten-story building, designed by George Washington Maher to complement the look of the Administration Building, was completed. 250,000 visitors toured the Watkins manufacturing plant between 1937 and 1939. As many as 5,000 people a day would take the tour at its 150 Liberty Street location.
"Pure enough to eat!"
Watkins introduced its Pure Vegetable Oil Soap with no animal by-products, fillers or colors, and children everywhere began to fear that parents would actually wash their mouths out with soap.
Gold Medal Winners
Ah, Paris—home of the International Exposition. Where Art Deco emerges as the predominant style and the recently renamed J.R.Watkins Company wins gold medals for its Vanilla Extract, Cinnamon and Black Pepper—medals you can still see on our packaging today.
Chicago World's Fair
J.R. Watkins displayed its progressive products at the Chicago World’s Fair: A Century of Progress International Exposition.