The Watkins company grew out of the sale of home brewed medical products by Joseph Ray Watkins. Watkins cooked up the remedies in the family's kitchen, bottles them in the woodshed, and then hit the road to sell them in the territory around his Plainview, Minnesota, home. In time, his sales radius extended to 100 miles.
J.R.'s business had been launched in 1868, when he purchased the right to compound and manufacture Dr. Ward's Vegetable Anodyne Liniment. In time, additional products were added to his line. The business prospered.
In 1885, Watkins moved his family to Winona, Minnesota, where he was closer to sources of supply. He continued to work out of his house, devoting half to family living and the other half to the business. In 1882, his brother, Paul, joined him as vice president.
In 1895, Watkins entered the gourmet food market with vanilla, black pepper and cinnamon. In 1901 their first advertising almanac was issued. J.R. Watkins died in Jamaice in 1911, three months after marrying his daughter's mother-in-law. Paul Watkins now became president. The business continued to flourish.
In 1913 a distinguished headquarters building was completed in Winona. By 1920, the company had 100 items in its product line. In 1978 the company was sold to Irwin L. Jacobs and his son, Mark Jacobs, became president.
"Today the company, now called Watkins Products, has begun to sell through WalMart and in China."
Until recently, Watkins products have been sold exclusively through a network of independent agents. By 1911, 2,500 agents were selling Watkins products door to door. By the end of the 20th century, this number had grown to around 80,000.
Early in its history, Watkins introduced the "Trial Mark" bottle. This marking on the bottle indicated how much of the product the customer could use and still be eligible for the Watkins "money back guarantee" refund. Once the customer had consumed beyond the "trial mark," the guarantee was expired.
Today the Watkins company sells several light fragrances, as household products. It appears that, in its history, perfume — what would call toilet water — has at times been part of the Watkins line. No history is know of the Watkins bottles shown below. On the empty bottle, note the finger grips molded into the side of the bottle.