William Colgate and His Soap and Candle Business

William Colgate was an American entrepreneur who founded a soap company which later became Colgate-Palmolive. He was born in Kent, England on January 25, 1783.

William Colgate
William Colgate (Credit: abhsarchives.org)

William Colgate was a son of an English farming couple. As a teenager, he relocated with his family to Baltimore, United States of America where he found work as an apprentice in a soap-making shop. At the age of 21, he moved to New York City where he also apprenticed in a candle-making shop. Being observant as he is, he noticed how wasteful the current practice and vowed to find a better way to make candles. It was also at this time that he became a devoted Baptist after he met a man who advised him about the importance of giving tithe for the success of one’s endeavor. Since then, he made sure to give away a tenth of his income and later, two-tenths of his income to the local congregation.

In 1806, William set up his own shop in New York City to make and sell soap, candles as well as starch. Business was slow during the first few years but after 1817, when he started to advertise aggressively in newspapers, sales and profit soared which allowed him to put up a bigger soap factory and build a new starch factory in 1820.

William died in 1857 at the age of 74. He had 3 children with his wife Mary Gilbert. His Son, Samuel took over the management of the company after his death. In 1928, Palmolive-Peet Company bought Colgate and Company and renamed Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Company. In 1953, it adopted its current name. At present, the company is one of the world’s largest producers of personal care products such as soap, toothpaste, and shampoos. In 2020, it ranked #494 in the Forbes Global 2000 List with revenues of $15 billion and over 34,000 employees worldwide.



  1. How interesting, it only takes a little idea to begin and a lot of hard work. I’m very familiar with Colgate and it’s nice to know how it got started.

    • So we can say that what happened to Colgate is just 1 percent inspiration (simple idea) and 99% perspiration (hard word).

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