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1800s - Introducing our founders

What happened in the 1800s?

An advert for Lifebuoy Soap

Our story begins back in the late 19th century and tells of small family businesses who - through partnerships, brand innovation and industry firsts - grow into the purpose-led company that is Unilever today.

1860 - Introducing the Jurgens family

The Jurgens family

Dating back to the early 18th century, the Jurgens, a family of carpenters, begin selling on butter that they have received as payment for work. As this proves to be a profitable enterprise, in 1860 the family move to Oss, Brabant in the Netherlands, to focus on building up a successful business in the butter trade.

1870 - Introducing the Van den Bergh family

A portrait image of Samuel Van den Bergh

The Van den Berghs, a family of butter merchants, have also built up a thriving butter trade in the Dutch town of Oss. By 1870, the business has expanded and begins exporting to England, the biggest market for Dutch butter.

1871 - The making of margarine

An advert for margarine

In 1871, the Jurgens family acquire the patent for making margarine from its inventor Mège Mouriès. The new product, made from animal fat, can be mass produced as an affordable substitute for butter and becomes known as margarine. With business in the same town, Jan Jurgens takes a sample of this new product to Simon Van den Bergh who then begins to develop a similar product. The development of hydrogenation, a technique for hardening vegetable oils, makes it possible to use a wide range of raw materials, not just animal fat.

1884 - William Lever and Lever & Co launch the first branded soap

A Sunlight Soap Box

In northern England, Lever & Co, a family grocery business, begin producing a new soap containing copra or pine kernel oil, to help it lather more easily than traditional soaps made of animal fats. Unusually for the time, William Lever sells it wrapped in distinctive packs with a brand name - Sunlight.

1886 - Sunlight soap begins advertising in-home

Sunlight Stamps

Sunlight soap becomes one of the first brands to advertise in-home, using innovative means such as small cards inserted into soap packaging, featuring the Sunlight brand in cartoon drawings or calendars. As early as 1893, postage stamps are used in New Zealand to advertise Sunlight Soap.

1887 - William Lever starts to build Port Sunlight

An aerial view of Port Sunlight
Port Sunlight allotments

With 450 tons of Sunlight soap being made a week, the scale of the business encourages William Lever to buy a large factory in Liverpool, with a purpose-built village for its workers providing a high standard of housing, amenities and leisure facilities.

1890 - Business booms for the newly registered Lever Brothers Ltd

Lever registration form

In the year that the Lever Brothers become a limited company, sales of Sunlight soap have boomed to nearly 40,000 tons a year. As a result, the business starts expanding into Europe, America and the British colonies with factories, export businesses and plantations.

1894 - Lifebuoy launches with accessible health and hygiene in mind

Lifebuoy soap packaging

With a growing interest in public health and personal hygiene, Lever Brothers create a new product called Lifebuoy Soap. It uses carbolic acid to combat germs but remains affordable to everyone.

1898 - Van den Bergh adds Vitello to the growing margarine market

Vitello girl

Just as for Lever Brothers, business is booming for Van den Bergh. With a 750-strong salesforce and a thriving export trade, they launch their first branded margarine - Vitello. Manufactured from animal fats, its superior quality, compared with its competitors, ensures its success.

1899 - The launch of Sunlight Flakes promises to make housework easy

Sunlight Flakes packaging

Lever Brothers introduce a new type of product, Sunlight Flakes - that seeks to make housework easier than with the traditional hard soap bars. In 1900 this innovation becomes known as Lux Flakes.

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