Watkins - Handcrafted in the USA Since 1868 ...  Naturally
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The Watkins 1868 Story

Our History...

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.

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Liniment Bottle 1868

“The Watkins Way”

From the beginning, The Watkins Co. 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.

Trial-Mark Bottle 1869

1876 1876 Alexander Graham Bell makes his first telephone call.

Growing and Moving

Winona, Minn., was a thriving logging town, a transportation hub for southeastern Minnesota 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.

Flourish Watkins 1868 Corporate Photograph 1885

1895 1895 The Lumière Brothers make the first motion picture.

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.

Flourish 1895

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.

Flourish Watkins 1868 Administration Building 1912
Manufacturing Facility

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.

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Watkins Vegetable Oil Soap

1919 1919 Prohibition is instituted as the 18th Amendment.

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.

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Watkins Gold Medal Products 1928
Chicago World's Fair Illustration

Chicago World's Fair

J.R. Watkins displayed its progressive products at the Chicago
World’s Fair: A Century of Progress International Exposition.

World War II Women Flourish

Switching Gears for World War II

Men joined the armed forces, women entered the workforce and Watkins devoted 90% of its production capacity to support the Allied war effort. To fill government contracts, Watkins produced dried eggs, powdered juice packets, vitamin tablets, hospital germicide and DDT and insecticide powder.


1951 1951 I Love Lucy is broadcast for the first time on CBS.

Watkins Man Illustration

Famous "Watkins Man" Launches Career

The unstoppable Bill Porter began his career as a Watkins Man, walking
door-to-door in his Portland, Ore., sales territory despite crippling
cerebral palsy. His indomitable spirit and steadfast perseverance
propelled him through a 50-plus year career with Watkins, inspired
others along the way. He has been featured in countless news stories and
was the subject of a 2002 Emmy award-winning television movie, “Door
to Door” on TNT.

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1960 1960 Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss is published by Random House.

New York Globe

New York
World's Fair

Amidst Space Age promises and Baby Boomer optimism,
the company displayed its goods at the 1964–1965 New
York World’s Fair. Now called Watkins Products Inc., the
company was also gaining more visibility with television
advertising, including live segments on NBC’s “Today”
show hosted by Dave Garroway.


1969 1969 The Beatles' Abbey Road is released on Apple Records.


The End of
An Era

After 88 years in operation, The Watkins Print Shop closes, ceasing all printing operations. Its most famous publication was the 1948 “Watkins Almanac, Home Doctor and Cook Book.” The print shop space becomes the Watkins Museum & Store in 1993, a popular Winona, Minn. tour stop.

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Watkins Almanac Page Watkins Almanac Page Watkins Almanac Page Watkins Almanac Page 1988

2002 2002 American Idol debuts on Fox.

135 Years Display

135 Years Young and Stronger Than Ever

The journal Nature reports that 350,000-year-old footprints
of an upright-walking human were found in Italy, modern
men and women march to war or in protest of war in Iraq, and
J.R. Watkins celebrates 135 years since the original Watkins
Man roamed from door-to-door throughout Minnesota.

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US Map

Watkins Earns a Place in History

The J.R. Watkins Medical Company complex in Winona, Minn., was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors continue to tour the Museum & Store, located at 150 Liberty Street in Winona, Mondays through Fridays from 10:00 AM -4:00 PM, and Saturdays from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM.


2006 2006 Wii Game Console released by Nintendo.

Flourish Watkins Throw-Back Bottle

Throw-Back Bottles and Reformulated Home Care

A pure classic returned to the Watkins line up. The 1869 Trial-Mark Bottle
was reintroduced in 2006 along with a fresh commitment to the Watkins
Way of providing high-quality products and excellent customer service.
Also, in 2006: Watkins increases its commitment to naturals by
reformulating its home care line to a higher natural standard.

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Cy Young

MLB All-Star Pitcher Gets Relief

Cy Young Award-winner and former Minnesota Twin pitcher Johan
Santana endorsed Watkins Liniment after his Minnesota Twins trainer recommended it to him. “Nothing gave me the necessary relief and
comfort for my sore and tight muscles until I tried J.R. Watkins
Apothecary Liniment,” said Santana. Much like the original product sold
in 1868, Natural Pain Relieving Liniment uses camphor and capsicum to stimulate nerve receptors. Since then, Watkins has eliminated all traces
of artificial red coloring, resulting in a product that is 96.5% natural.

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Along New Lines

J.R. Watkins offers a new way to refresh your home with its Natural Home Care line, introduced in August of 2007. The non-toxic, plant-based formulas are biodegradable and phosphate free. And, the launch of the J.R. Watkins Natural Apothecary line brings back tried-and-true, over-the-counter remedies, many of which are NPA-certified. Customers who already love Watkins Vanilla, Pepper and Cinnamon rejoice when the line is expanded to include more than 20 spices and seasoning blends. And in 2008, we continue to increase our standards of natural.

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Watkins Natural Home Care Line 2008

2009 2009 Avatar is the highest-grossing film of the year.

Official Sponsor of Pillsbury Bake-Off

Official Spice and Extract Sponsor of the Pillsbury Bake-Off ®


J.R. Watkins was the official spice and extract sponsor the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off®. Bake-Off is a registered trademark of General Mills ©2014

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Live Hands On

J.R. Watkins launches the "Live Hands On" Campaign. A multi-year integrated marketing campaign.

Our minds may be the master of our lives, but our hands are what get it done every day. For 148 years, J.R. Watkins has been there for the doers: for those whose hands scrub, soothe, sew, clean, care, cook, create, teach, toil, bathe, bake, make and more. Let's celebrate those hands: the array of things they know, the memories they make, the richer, fuller lives they yield.

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World Record Layer Cake

The Watkins Company Celebrated its 150th Anniversary

In 2018 The Watkins Company celebrated its 150th Anniversary with a Guinness World Records attempt. The Watkins Company is now the current Guinness World Records Title holder for the "Greatest Number of Layers in a Layer Cake." The record breaking event took place during The Watkins Company's 150th Anniversary Celebration at the company's headquarters in Winona, Minnesota, on Friday, September 14, 2018. The 260 layer cake made with Watkins All Natural Original Gourmet Baking Vanilla® Extract broke the previous record by 30 layers.

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