Newcastle may be not the first place you think of when you’re asked about a centre of innovation, but today’s story will be the fourth one that I have written about brands that were born in the city.
Having written about Lucozade, Greggs and Newcastle Brown Ale, this week’s brand story starts with a dentist before it literally goes down the drain.
Wilfred (sometimes spelt Wilfrid) Augustine Handley followed in his father’s footsteps and became a dentist or rather what at the time was called a ‘dental mechanic’. Father and son practised at the family home at 309 Chillingham Road for many years.
Wilfred’s big idea however started with what was a waste product, sodium hypochlorite. He bought it from the ICI chemical works at Billingham and used the compound to whiten dentures (and maybe even teeth!)
Wilfred knew it had wider potential and started to dilute and bottle it.
In fact, bleach which is what he was working with, had been around since the eighteenth century, and in the late nineteenth century, E S Smith patented the chloralkali process of producing sodium hypochlorite, which had started to be sold as a bleach under a number of brand names but none with any great success.
Wilfred didn’t therefore actually invent bleach, but what he did do, was to get the marketing and distribution right.
First he chose a brand name. According to current owners, Unilever he chose a combination of the Latin ‘domus’ meaning house and the Greek ‘osteon’ meaning bone, suggesting ‘backbone of the home’.
The Handley family tell it a little differently: Wilfred asked his mother what his product should be called. Before answering, she asked what it was for and when Wilfred replied, ‘Domestic use‘, she came up with ‘Domestos’.
His second innovation was again not a completely original idea either and was probably inspired by the success of another local brand; Ringtons Tea, which had been established in Heaton in 1907. Ringtons sold door to door in the area with great success and that was what Wilfred decided to do too.
He bottled Domestos in large brown earthenware jars, which then could be refilled by door to door salesmen pushing hand carts or riding bicycle carts.
The bleach was promoted as a cleaning agent to whiten whites and to to pour down and ‘sweeten’ drains and was a real success. By 1933, goods were being shipped south to Hull by sea and, within two years, supply depots had opened in both Hull and Middlesbrough.
The brand prospered in wartime when additional uses for the brand included being a cure for sore feet and a treatment for burns. The end of the conflicts could have slowed things down as the company was unable to acquire enough delivery vehicles.
Showing more ingenuity Dosmestos overcame the problem; they bought the St Ann’s Works at Heaton Junction and set up their own coach building division. By 1952 there was national distribution with offices in London, Manchester, Cardiff, York and Glasgow and a national research laboratory.
In 1961, Wilfred sold the brand to Lever Brothers Ltd.