William Hesketh Lever, first Viscount Leverhulme (1851–1925)

W H Lever was a successful soap manufacturer who founded the model industrial village of Port Sunlight, one of the most significant of its kind in Europe. He grew up in Bolton and entered his father’s grocery business at the age of 16, becoming a partner in 1872.

He and his brother, James Darcy Lever (1854-1916) began to trade on their own account, selling soap to which he applied the brand name ‘Sunlight’ in 1884. The following year the brothers began to manufacture their own soap, and in 1888 he established a new factory near the River Mersey in the Wirral Peninsula, which, with the village that he built around it, he called Port Sunlight. Four hundred houses in the Garden City style had been built by 1900, and ultimately the village consisted of more than a thousand dwellings. The factory and the first houses were designed by a local architect William Owen, but subsequently architects with national reputations, such as Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) and Ernest Newton (1856-1922) were employed, producing a bewildering variety of designs. Port Sunlight also includes a church, a public house, many meeting halls and the magnificent Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Lever was one of the first to exploit the power of brands, which had gained protection from imitation through the Trade Mark Registration Act of 1875. Apart from Sunlight soap he also established Vim scouring powder, Lux soap flakes and Lifebuoy carbolic soap as powerful brands Lever Brothers became a public company in 1894 and exercised a powerful influence in the soap industry throughout Europe, with factories in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, as well as in North America.  Lever established crushing mills in Nigeria for the palm oil that he used in his soaps.

He was a Liberal MP in 1906-09, and became a viscount in 1922. In his last years he attempted with little long-term success to develop the fishing industry on the Scottish islands of Lewis and South Harris. Lever Brothers was merged with Margarine Unie in 1930 to form the Unilever corporation.