Born January 25, 1783
By William Colgate’s 37th birthday in 1820, it seemed that God blessed everything the businessman touched. But that same year, some dubbed William’s latest venture “Colgate’s Folly.” That’s the year he moved his soap manufacturing operations from New York to New Jersey. He built a factory there and started producing starch as filler for his hand soaps.
PROVEN BUSINESS LEADER
William first saw America as a teenager when his family left England to settle in Maryland. When the young adult William moved to New York, he gained an apprenticeship with a soap-maker. He learned well, soon starting his own business. It prospered.
William’s innovative practices are credited with bringing America’s soap-making business out of the dark ages. Traditionally, soap on this side of the ocean didn’t even smell good. He introduced perfumed soaps to the United States. He made individual bars of soap available. He offered home delivery service. What some considered his folly in 1820 proved to be one more wise business decision. The starch additive reduced his costs, which lowered prices for the buying public.
A PACT WITH GOD
Why did God continue blessing William Colgate? Because William’s Christian faith advised all parts of his life. He committed his family to God (William and his wife Mary raised their sons in the faith); he served as a wise steward of God’s money (not only tithing but giving generously to missions and other Christian causes); he led his business with a servant’s heart, constantly improving his products for the public.
He wanted others to benefit as he had from God’s word. The devout Christian, fondly known as Deacon Colgate, helped launch the American Bible Society and, later, the American and Foreign Bible Society. Along with sponsoring Bible distribution, he was personally involved in and heavily supported New York’s Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution.
He didn’t create the toothpaste bearing his name. That came later. William Colgate did reinvent the world of soap for America. Although he died on March 25, 1857, his influence lives on through his company’s products, through the distribution of God’s word by the American Bible Society and through the university to which he donated so much. In 1890, the governing board renamed the institution Colgate University. William Colgate also left a great example for all Christians in business.
LET ME KNOW: How has William’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Reese, Ed. Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2007.
Learn more about William Colgate and the results of his Christian influence from the following resources among others——————————————————————-
- Brackney, William. The Baptists. New York: Geenfield Press, 1988.
- Hardin, Shields, T. The Colgate Story. New York: Vantage Press, 1959.