William Thomas “Will” Rawleigh (1870–1951) was an American medicine peddler, who eventually parlayed his early success (beginning in 1889) into an international manufacturing enterprise.
Rawleigh began making products in his mother’s farm kitchen, near Mineral Point, Wisconsin, starting with ink to sell to his schoolmates at the age of nine, and in time he would expand to a large analytical laboratory in Freeport, Illinois.
Existing photographs (“Old Main” 2012; “W.T. Rawleigh” 2016) show Rawleigh’s horse-drawn peddler wagons. He purchased a new one after his initial three years of success. The wagons’ largest lettering heralded “Rawleigh’s [script trademark] REMEDIES.”
The company’s medicines came to include a liniment, an antiseptic salve, a Mustard Ointment, a RU-MEX-OL Compound (containing 18% alcohol and billed as “a Tonic and Alterative”) and an External AP (i.e., anti-pain) remedy. He also published a Rawleigh Good Health Guide (“W.T. Rawleigh” 2016; Fike 2006, 240; “William Thomas Rawleigh” 2016).
By 1902 the enterprise became the W.T. Rawleigh Medical Company, and after 1916, simply the W.T. Rawleigh Company. There were branches in other states and countries, as well as warehouses for storing exotic spices and extracts, and Rawleigh obtained raw materials in China, Japan, and elsewhere.
The firm sold other household products—over a hundred in all. These included sewing machine oil, cleaning products, spices, vanilla and other extracts, toiletries, cosmetics, etc. There grew to be an entire fleet of salesmen who went door to door (rather like Fuller Brush men and women). The company also did a thriving mail-order business (Lauderdale 2012).
Rawleigh’s international travels inspired him to become a collector of art forms that would become the Freeport Art Museum. He served as Acting Mayor of Freeport (1909–1911) and a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, and became a delegate to the 1932 Republican National Convention. He died in 1951. The company declined, but is still in business, located in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Fike, Richard E. 2006. The Bottle Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Historic, Embossed Medicine Bottles. Caldwell, NJ: The Blackburn Press, 75, 240.
Lauderdale, Vance. 2012. Lost Memphis: The W.T. Raleigh Company. Online at https://memphismagazine.com/ask-vance/lost-memphis-the-wt-rawleigh-company/; accessed May 3, 2016.
Old Main Artifacts. 2012. Online at https://oldmainartifacts.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/the-w-t-rawleigh-company-freeport-il/; accessed May 3, 2016.
William Thomas Rawleigh. 2016. Online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Thomas_Rawleigh; accessed May 3, 2016.
W.T. Rawleigh Medicine Peddler. 2016. Online at https://www.bottlepickers.com/bottle_articles103.htm; accessed May 3, 2016.