William Hesketh Lever was a multimillionaire businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He was born in Bolton, the son of a wholesale grocer. He left school at 16 to join the family firm which he expanded and transformed. In 1884 he decided to focus on just one product - household soap - primarily because of its potential for marketing in pre-wrapped bars under a brand name. Previously soap had to be cut to order from a single large block.
Two years later he began to manufacture soap himself and set up the firm of Lever Brothers with his invalid brother. He initially produced his soap in an existing factory but by 1888 had outgrown the site and moved to a purpose built and much larger building on the Wirral shore of the Mersey. He also built a village to house his employees and named it Port Sunlight after his most successful brand of soap.
Within a few years the interests of his company Lever Brothers stretched from the United Kingdom to West Africa, the Pacific and the United States. The company grew until Lever was employing 85,000 workers around the world in 1925. The success of his company made Lever very rich. By 1912 in addition to his income, he had personal assets valued at nearly three million pounds. Lever made a large contribution to the lives of ordinary people. He built Port Sunlight to provide his workforce with good housing. He campaigned for better welfare and a shorter working day, and supported building, education and medical projects.
Lever also became a passionate collector of art on a scale unmatched in Britain since his death and he used his enormous wealth to put together an outstanding collection. He purpose-built the Lady Lever Art Gallery, which opened in Port Sunlight on 16 December 1922, in memory of his late wife, Elizabeth, with the intention of using it to display his extensive art collection.
Mr William Lever: 1851–1911
Sir William Lever, Bt: 1911–1917
The Rt Hon. The Lord Leverhulme: 1917–1922
The Rt Hon. The Viscount Leverhulme: 1922–1925