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William Colgate

Updated on December 01, 2016

William Colgate (1783-1857) was an American manufacturer and philanthropist, who founded what became Colgate-Palmolive Co., a giant of the soap and perfumery industry. He was born in Hollingbourne, England, on Jan. 25, 1783. His family moved to the United States in 1795. After some schooling, William was apprenticed to a New York soapboiler in 1804. Two years later he established a laundry soap factory in New York City. His son Samuel Colgate (1822-1897) joined him in 1838, when the firm of Colgate and Co. was founded. The firm moved to Jersey City in 1847, added toilet soap to its products, and in 1870 set up a perfumery department.

After William Colgate's death in New York on March 25, 1857, the business was greatly expanded by Samuel. By the early 1900's the Jersey City plant occupied two city blocks, had huge boiling -vats of 600,000 pounds (about 272,000 kg) capacity each, and employed 800 men. For its perfumery business, it used hundreds of tons of rose leaves and other blossoms, all grown for Colgate in France.

William, his son Samuel, and another son, James B. Colgate (1818-1904), all leading Baptist laymen, were benefactors of religious and educational projects. Their many donations to an academy in Hamilton, N. Y., enabled it to emerge as Colgate University in 1890. James B. Colgate headed an important New York banking house and was president of the Gold Exchange.

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