The J.R. Watkins Story

From humble beginnings in Plainview, Minn., to a
multi-national company, one thing has always stayed the
same: Our commitment to making hard-working products
from high-quality natural ingredients.

J.R. Watkins Portrait
Flourish

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, 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.

Trial-Mark Bottle 1869

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 Incorporated Photograph 1885

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, Cloves, Peppermint Extract, and Lemon Extract.

Flourish 1895

Launch of Watkins Almanac and Face Cream

Watkins put knowledge and know-how behind its products with the debut of the “Watkins Almanac, Home Doctor and Cook Book.” Customers referenced the Almanac for tips on feeling better and eating well. And, with the introduction of the company’s first personal care product, Watkins Face Cream, Watkins helped women look good, too. Today, the first facial care product has been reformulated into Divine Day Cream and Nourishing Night Cream.

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Face Cream 1900

1908 The first Model T Ford rolls off the line.

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 J.R. Watkins Administration Building 1912

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.

1914
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“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
1917

1919 Prohibition is instituted as the 18th Amendment.

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Remember to Take Your Vitamins

Watkins advanced natural nutrition with its herb tablets (a.k.a. vitamins). The ultramodern notion of dietary enhancements was ahead of its time, and has endured for decades. Today, these cutting-edge dietary supplements include a Superfood Multiple as well as custom formulations to support Eyes and Skin, Hair & Nails.

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Watkins Vitamins 1922

1925 The New Yorker magazine publishes first issue.

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.

1933
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.

1942

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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1955

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

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.

1964

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

Flourish

Reinventing a Company and Its Bottles

In 1970, not every woman was born to bake, so Watkins began selling its All-Natural Pure Extracts in 2 oz. glass cruet bottles. Watkins unsuccessfully adapted to women’s emerging needs and changing shopping habits, which caused a sales slump until 1978 when the Jacobs family took ownership of the company from bankruptcy, and changed the name to Watkins, Incorporated. By 1990, Jacobs had helped Watkins quadruple in size.

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Clear Vanilla Bottle 1970s

1977 Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta hits the big screen.

Flourish

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 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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2003
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.

2005

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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2006
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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2007
Flourish

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 J.R. 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 Avatar is the highest-grossing film of the year.