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In a normal year, this is the time for spring cleaning to begin. Coughs and sneezes are common, the result of dusting furniture or of allergies from the newly blooming trees.

This year, all has changed.

Coughs can be alarming. Continually cleaning one’s surroundings is a necessity. When cleaning supplies are not available, recipes may be found online for concocting one’s own.

“Watkins Household Hints,” published by the J.R. Watkins Co. in 1941, had a variety of suggestions for these “concoctions.”

The cost of the book was originally $1.50. The author was Elaine Allen, who had also written the “Watkins Cook Book.”

The Watkins Products Co. itself was established in 1868 in Plainview, Minn. Joseph Ray Watkins manufactured and sold the “new, all-natural liniment.”

The liniment was advertised as benefiting “hard-working wives and mothers with tired-aching muscles” who would “find relief” in the liniment.

The product was made from camphor, which came from evergreen trees, and capsicum, which came from red peppers.

The liniment is still sold today. Advertisements say it is 96.5 percent natural.

In 1869, Watkins offered America’s first money-back guarantee. On each bottle was a “trial mark.” If the customer tried the liniment but used so little that it stayed above the mark, a full refund was guaranteed.

Later, Watkins products established a second home in Winona, Minn., then the fourth largest city in the state. By 1894, the business was listed as J.R. Watkins Medical Company.

By the next year, the company, which had succeeded largely through the efforts of door-to-door salesmen, expanded its products to include vanilla extract, black pepper, and cinnamon.

A few years later, after the publication of the Household Hints book, World War II began. Watkins Co. helped in the war effort with special products. These included dried eggs, powdered juice packets, vitamin tablets, and germicide for hospitals.

By the 1980’s, high school students had started selling Watkins products as a means of fundraising for different clubs and organizations. This was true here in the county. 

In 2006 the trial mark bottles were re-introduced in a new commitment to high quality and a focus on customer service. 

In 2018, Watkins Co. won a spot in the Guinness World Records for “Greatest Number of Layers in a Cake.”

That year was the company’s 150th Anniversary, and a cake was baked that had 260 layers. The previous winner had “only 230 layers.” The Watkins cake, of course, used its own vanilla extract.

Many of their household hints involve the use of their own products. For example, a rug stained with asphalt should be scrubbed with a cloth saturated with Watkins Spot Remover. “Hard scrubbing is required.”

Many other hints are simply hints.

Watkins products may be purchased online today.

In the Eagle’s Eye is sponsored by the Robertson County Historical Society. Call 615-382-7173 for more information.

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