Lever, William Hesketh

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b. 19 September 1851 Bolton, Lancashire, England
d. 7 May 1925 Hampstead, London, England
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English manufacturer of soap.
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William Hesketh Lever was the son of the retail grocer James Lever, who built up the large wholesale firm of Lever \& Co. in the north-west of England. William entered the firm at the age of 19 as a commercial traveller, and in the course of his work studied the techniques of manufacture and the quality of commercial soaps available at the time. He decided that he would concentrate on the production of a soap that was not evil-smelling, would lather easily and be attractively packaged. In 1884 he produced Sunlight Soap, which became the trade mark for Lever \& Co. He had each tablet wrapped, partly to protect the soap from oxygenization and thus prevent it from becoming rancid, and partly to display his brand name as a form of advertising. In 1885 he raised a large capital sum, purchased the Soap Factory in Warrington of Winser \& Co., and began manufacture. His product contained oils from copra, palm and cotton blended with tallow and resin, and its quality was carefully monitored during production. In a short time it was in great demand and began to replace the previously available alternatives of home-made soap and poor-quality, unpleasant-smelling bars.
It soon became necessary to expand the firm's premises, and in 1887 Lever purchased fifty-six acres of land upon which he set up a new centre of manufacture. This was in the Wirral in Cheshire, near the banks of the River Mersey. Production at the new factory, which was called Port Sunlight, began in January 1889. Lever introduced a number of technical improvements in the production process, including the heating systems and the recovery of glycerine (which could later be sold) from the boiling process.
Like Sir Titus Salt of Saltaire before him, Lever believed it to be in the interest of the firm to house his workers in a high standard of building and comfort close to the factory.
By the early twentieth century he had created Port Sunlight Village, one of the earliest and certainly the most impressive housing estates, for his employees. Architecturally the estate is highly successful, being built from a variety of natural materials and vernacular styles by a number of distinguished architects, so preventing an overall architectural monotony. The comprehensive estate comprises, in addition to the factory and houses, a church, an art gallery, schools, a cottage hospital, library, bank, fire station, post office and shops, as well as an inn and working men's institute, both of which were later additions. In 1894 Lever \& Co. went public and soon was amalgamated with other soap firms. It was at its most successful high point by 1910.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
First Viscount Leverhulme of the Western Isles.
Further Reading
1985, Dictionary of Business Biography. Butterworth.
Ian Campbell Bradley, 1987, Enlightened Entrepreneurs, London: Weidenfeld \& Nicolson.
DY

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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