Lever Brothers

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Lever Brothers
IndustryConsumer Goods
Founded1884; 139 years ago (1884) in Warrington, England
FoundersThe 1st Viscount Leverhulme
James Darcy Lever
Defunct1930 (1930)
FateMerged with Margarine Unie
Number of employees
250,000 (1930)
ParentUnilever Edit this on Wikidata
SubsidiariesCurtis Davis Company
Huileries du Congo Belge
A&F Pears
Hazlehurst & Sons

Lever Brothers was a British manufacturing company founded in 1885 by two brothers: William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme (1851–1925), and James Darcy Lever (1854–1916). They invested in and successfully promoted a new soap-making process invented by chemist William Hough Watson. Lever Brothers entered the United States market in 1895 and acquired Mac Fisheries, owner of T. Wall & Sons, in 1925. Lever Brothers was one of several British companies that took an interest in the welfare of its British employees. Its brands included "Lifebuoy", "Lux" and "Vim". Lever Brothers merged with Margarine Unie to form Unilever in 1929.


Starting with a small grocery business begun by his father, William Lever and his brother James entered the soap business in 1885 by buying a small soap works in Warrington. The brothers teamed up with a Cumbrian chemist, William Hough Watson, who became an early business partner. Watson invented the process which resulted in a new soap, using glycerin and vegetable oils such as palm oil, rather than tallow.[1] The resulting soap was a good, free-lathering soap, at first named Honey Soap then later named "Sunlight Soap". Production reached 450 tons per week by 1888. Larger premises were built on marshes at Bromborough Pool on the Wirral Peninsula at what became Port Sunlight,[2] then part of Cheshire. Though the company was named Lever Brothers, William Lever's brother and co-director James never took a major part in running the business. He fell ill in 1895, probably as a result of diabetes, and resigned his directorship two years later.[3]

Lever Brothers entered the United States market in 1895, with a small New York City sales office. In 1898, it bought a soap manufacturer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Curtis Davis Company, moved its U.S. headquarters to Cambridge and started production at a factory located at what is now Technology Square. By 1929, Lever Brothers employed 1,000 workers in Cambridge, and 1,400 nationwide, making it the third-largest soap manufacturer in the U.S.[4]

In 1925, Lever Brothers acquired Mac Fisheries, owner of T. Wall & Sons.[5]

In 1949, Unilever moved its US headquarters and laboratories to Park Avenue, New York, and in 1959, it closed the Cambridge factory.[4]

Employee welfare and use of forced labour[edit]

Lever Brothers was one of several British companies that took an interest in the welfare of its British employees.[6] The model village of Port Sunlight, then in Cheshire, was developed between 1888 and 1914 adjoining the soap factory to accommodate the company's staff in good quality housing, with high architectural standards and many community facilities. The paternalism found at Port Sunlight did not exist in the operations of its subsidiary in the Belgian Congo, where Lever Brothers, through their subsidiary Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB), utilised forced labour between 1911 and 1945.[7][8][9]


By 1911, the company had its own oil palm plantations in the Belgian Congo and the Solomon Islands. Lever Brothers Ltd also acquired other soap companies including A&F Pears, John Knight of London,[10] Gossage's of Widnes, Watson's of Leeds, Crosfield's of Warrington, Hazlehurst & Sons of Runcorn and Hudson's of Liverpool. The town of Leverville (the present-day Lusanga) was founded in the then district of Kwango, later part of the Province of Léopoldville, in the western part of the Belgian Congo and was named after William Lever (later Viscount Leverhulme).[11]


In September 1929, Unilever was formed by a merger of the operations of Dutch Margarine Unie and British soapmaker Lever Brothers, named as a blend of the two firms' names. [12] By 1930, it employed 250,000 people and in terms of market value, was the largest company in Britain.[6] Unilever was the first modern multinational company.[6]

The Lever Brothers name was kept until the 1990s as an imprint, as well as the name of the US subsidiary, Lever Brothers Company, and a Canadian subsidiary, Lever Brothers Limited. Lever Brothers was sold to a US capital firm, Pensler Capital Corporation, and renamed Korex in 2008. Korex Don Valley assumed operations of the Lever Brothers Toronto plant. It has since closed and gone bankrupt. The Toronto plant is now being redeveloped into an office and industrial district by First Gulf Corporation.[13]


Among its presidents was Charles Luckman who in the 1950s championed the construction of the Lever House in New York City. Luckman left the company before the building's completion, moving on to a notable architectural career, including the design of Madison Square Garden, the Theme Building, the master plan for Los Angeles International Airport, the Aon Center, and major buildings at the Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center.[14]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Jeannifer Filly Sumayku, Unilever: Providing Enjoyable and Meaningful Life to Customers[Usurped!][Usurped!], The President Post, 22 March 2010
  2. ^ "Unilever: A company history". BBC. 22 February 2000. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  3. ^ Macqueen, Adam (2005). The King of Sunlight: How William Lever Cleaned Up the World. Unilever first started out in new zealand wellington petone but then later on got moved to australia. Random House. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-552-15087-3.
  4. ^ a b "Industry in Cambridge: Lever Brothers". Cambridge Historical Society. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  5. ^ "Acquisitions and firm growth: Creating Unilever's ice cream and tea business" (PDF). Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Brian Lewis (2008). "So Clean": Lord Leverhulme, Soap and Civilization. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  7. ^ Marchal, Jules (2008). Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  8. ^ Rich, Jeremy (Spring 2009). "Lord Leverhulme's Ghost: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo (review)". Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History. 10. doi:10.1353/cch.0.0053. S2CID 161485622. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  9. ^ Buell, Raymond Leslie (1928). The native problem in Africa, Volume II. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. 540–544.
  10. ^ Grace's Guide: John Knight Retrieved 1 May 2020
  11. ^ Gurney, Peter (1996). Co-operative culture and the politics of consumption in England, 1870-1930. Manchester University Press ND. p. 207. ISBN 0-7190-4950-4.
  12. ^ About us, 1920-1929 "1920 - 1929 | About | Unilever global company website". Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 12 October 2019., Unilever
  13. ^ "Old soap factory getting a facelift". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  14. ^ Muschamp, Herbert (28 January 1999). "Charles Luckman, Architect Who Designed Penn Station's Replacement, Dies at 89". New York Times. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  15. ^ Lavoie, Joanna (27 January 2012). "Former Lever Brothers site sold to commercial developer". Toronto.com.

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