William Hesketh Lever first produced the now famous Sunlight soap in 1885, claimed to be the first soap to have an imprinted name and be wrapped prior to sale. His range expanded in 1895 to include Lifebuoy soap. Sunlight soap was originally made in Britain, but Lever soon targeted other countries in which to market his soaps. In Australia, the first Lever Brothers factory was established in Balmain, Sydney, in 1899. It produced its first bar of Sunlight soap in 1900.
Meanwhile, J. Kitchen & Sons Ltd first produced the widely known Velvet soap in 1900 at their factory in Port Melbourne. By 1914 they were one of the largest soap manufacturers in Australia. Another soap manufacturer, William Burford, had began to produce soap and candles at an Adelaide factory as early as 1840, and by the 1880s his company expanded with the purchase of other soap factories in South Australia and Western Australia. By 1914 Burford's company dominated the soap and candle market in the western parts of Australia.
In 1924 Lever Brothers, J. Kitchen & Sons and W. H. Burford merged under the name Australian Producers Partnership Pty Ltd. In 1930 the British Lever Brothers merged with a Dutch margarine company in 1930 to form Unilever. Its most recognized skincare brands include Dove, Sunlight, Lux, Vaseline Intensive Care and Pond's.
By the late 1950s dishwashing products were being made by the Lever Brothers and J. Kitchen & Sons; detergents and shampoo were added in the 1960s, and toothpaste in 1976. In 1993, production capacity was trebled to enable the factory to produce detergent powders for the Australian and New Zealand markets.
J. Kitchen & Sons bought the trademark and goodwill of Rexona soap and formed Rexona Pty Ltd from Sheldon, which had developed soap, ointment and shaving cream from 1908. The soap and personal products companies now merged under the one banner, Unilever Australia Pty Ltd, in 1956, and in 1962 J. Kitchen & Sons and Lever Brothers formed Lever & Kitchen Pty Ltd. The two companies owned leading brands including Lux Flakes, Lux soap, Solvol, Rinso, Persil, Surf and Omo detergents, and Handy Andy.
A site was opened at North Rocks in 1969 to manufacture personal products, while the Balmain factory manufactured soaps and detergents. Production at Balmain ceased in 1988, and a new factory was established at Minto.
Lever & Kitchen and Rexona merged in 1989 to form L&K Rexona, with its head office at the North Rocks site. In 1993, Lever Brothers New Zealand and L&K Rexona merged to form one company for all detergents, soaps and personal care products, under the name of Lever Rexona.
Manufacturing facilities were reorganised and the detergent plant at Minto was closed, as was the soap factory at Port Melbourne. In the early 21st century most products are manufactured at either the Wellington, New Zealand site or at North Rocks.
Red Gum Soaps website http://www.redgumsoaps.com.au/35.0.html, accessed 22 Jan 2004