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Our story | Our heritage | Our future…

A look back into how it all began for RB centuries ago.

11 Feb 20214 minute read

Our story | Our heritage: The 200-year history that has built RB

Throughout this series, we’ve explored our archives to understand more about the people, the products and the passion behind RB.

You’ve learnt about our innovation through the ages and heard some of RB’s untold stories. You’ve gone ‘under the microscope’ to uncover the history of Dettol, Durex, Harpic and our infant and child nutrition brands. But really, we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Our story and our heritage go back centuries. So how did it all begin for RB? What is RB’s story? Well, let’s start at the very beginning…

Our story

Isaac Reckitt

Isaac Reckitt was born in 1792 and grew up in a Quaker family. In 1819, Isaac and his brother Thomas – renowned entrepreneurs – established a corn mill business in their home county of Lincolnshire. When they moved to Hull, East Yorkshire in 1840, they set up Reckitt & Sons with just a team of 25. The business’ first product? Laundry starch!

Reckitt's Starch

It may have been Isaac who started the business, but it was his sons who really grew the company. Isaac’s wife Ann also supported him – and the business – in troubled times and together, as a family, they developed the business into what we see today.

Francis and James Reckitt became sole partners in 1870. By 1912, over 5,000 people were employed at Reckitt & Sons and the firm had expanded, establishing a branch house in Sydney, Australia as well as opening a factory in New Brunswick, New Jersey, US.

Group photo of Reckitt employees taken in 1906
Group photo of Reckitt employees taken in 1906

James stayed with the business until his retirement, dedicating his life to the company and to the city of Hull. When his campaign to bring libraries to Hull failed, he built one for the community at his own cost. Alongside Francis, he turned a derelict hotel into a convalescent home and donated it to the local hospital. He even built a whole new area of the city – Garden Village – in which many of the factory workers lived.

Our heritage

Expanding the RB family

In 1938, Reckitt & Colman was formed, bringing together two established British brands and forming one household products conglomerate.

From Zebra Grate Polish and Windolene to Harpic, Dettol and Lemsip, the development and strategic acquisition of brands came thick and fast. Each brand bringing with it its own opportunities, potential for innovation and scientific experience.

In 1999, Reckitt & Colman merged with Dutch-based business Benckiser. Initially an industrial chemicals business founded by Johann A Benckiser in 1823, Benckiser went on to expand into household products. Its portfolio included Vanish, Finish, Calgon and Cillit and we recognised the compatibility between our two businesses.

J A Benckiser

J A Benckiser

The 21st Century…

The Millennium brought with it a sense of opportunity and excitement. Anything felt possible! And it certainly was for RB.

Over the next 10 years, a number of iconic brands joined the RB family – including Nurofen, Strepsils, Mucinex, Scholl, Mortein, Veja, Jontex and Durex. And in 2017 Mead Johnson Nutrition joined RB, bringing with it 115 years’ experience in infant and child nutrition.

RB’s global reach continued, and our purpose and fight remained hyper-focused.

Our future

…and beyond

And it’s safe to say our commitment to our purpose and fight has only grown stronger. Together with our employees, our partners, customers, consumers and communities we’re continuing in our relentless pursuit of a cleaner, healthier world – just as we always have.

Our archives – carefully curated by our heritage team – tell our story and bear witness to our heritage. 200 years of science, innovation and consumer-centric operations have stood us in good stead for the challenges of today, tomorrow and beyond.

Now in 2021, we’re facing one of the world’s biggest challenges in history: the spread of COVID-19. Our brands have been there through the hardest times during the pandemic and our people have been working on the frontlines. We have truly lived and breathed our purpose and will continue to protect, heal and nurture into the future, always guided by our compass.

We’re still telling our story and writing our heritage. Together.