WILLIAM HESKETH LEVER Biography - Craftmen, artisans and people from other Occupations


Biography » craftmen artisans and people from other occupations » william hesketh lever


Name: William Lever                                                                   
Born: 19 September 1851                                                               
Died: 7 May 1925                                                                       
William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme (19 September 1851 - 7 May 1925)       
was an English Industrialist, philanthropist and colonialist.                         
William Lever was born in 1851, in Bolton, Lancashire, England, and educated at       
the Bolton Church Institute. After training with his father's wholesale grocery       
business, in 1886 he established a soap manufacturing company called Lever             
Brothers (now part of Unilever) with his brother James. It was one of the first       
companies to manufacture soap from vegetable oils, and in conjunction with Lever's     
business acumen and marketing practices, produced a great fortune. James Lever         
never took a major part in running the business. A recent biography by Adam           
Macqueen suggests that James suffered from diabetes throughout his life, and           
that perhaps his symptoms (prior to the discovery of insulin and effective             
treatment of the condition) were mistaken for mental instability                       
From 1888, Lever began to put his philanthropic principles into practice through       
the construction of Port Sunlight, a model community designed to house and             
support the workers of Lever Brothers, who already enjoyed generous wages and         
innovative benefits. Lever's philanthropy had definite paternalistic overtones,       
and life in Port Sunlight included intrusive rules and implied mandatory               
participation in activities. With accommodation tied to employment, a worker           
losing his or her job could be almost simultaneously evicted. Nonetheless,             
conditions, pay, hours, and benefits far exceeded those prevailing in similar         
In the early 1900s, Lever was using palm oil produced in the British West             
African colonies. When he found difficulties in obtaining more palm plantation         
concessions, he started looking elsewhere in other colonies. In 1911, Lever           
visited the Belgian Congo to take advantage of cheap labour and palm oil               
concessions in that country. Lever's attitudes towards the Congolese were             
paternalistic and racist, and his negotiations with the Belgian coloniser to           
enforce the system known as travail forcé (forced labor) are well documented. As     
such, he participated in this system of formalised labour. The archives show a         
record of Belgian administrators, missionaries and doctors protesting against         
the practices at the Lever plantations. Formal parliamentary investigations were       
called for by members of the Belgian Socialist Party, but despite their work,         
the practise of forced labor continued until independence in 1960.                     
Lever lived in the Rivington area of Bolton for many years. In 1913, his house         
there was destroyed by suffragette Edith Rigby — ironically, as he was in favour     
women's suffrage. He had a large mansion created to replace this original home,       
and turned a large portion of the grounds over to the town of Bolton as a public       
park, including a small zoo stocked with emu, yaks, zebra, wallabies and a lion       
cub. His own Japanese-style garden, based on the design of the willow-patterned       
plate, included a lake complete with its own flock of flamingos. Each of his           
houses was equipped with an open-air bedroom, in which, following his wife             
Elizabeth's death in 1913, he frequently slept with only a small glass canopy to       
protect his bed from the elements.                                                     
Lever was a lifelong supporter of William Gladstone and the Liberal cause, and         
was often called upon to contest elections for the Liberal Party. He served as         
Member of Parliament (MP) for the Wirral constituency between 1906 and 1909,           
using his maiden speech to the House of Commons to urge Henry Campbell-Bannerman's     
government to introduce a national old age pension, as he already provided for         
his own workers. He was High Sheriff of Lancaster in 1917 and Mayor of Bolton in       
Lord Leverhulme is remembered as a philanthropist. Port Sunlight is now the home       
of the Lady Lever Art Gallery; he endowed a school of tropical medicine at             
Liverpool University; he gifted Lancaster House in London to the British nation;       
and endowed the Leverhulme Trust. The garden of his former London residence 'The       
Hill' in Hampstead, is open to the public. He was a major benefactor in his home       
town of Bolton. He bought Hall i' th' Wood (Samuel Crompton's birthplace) and         
donated it to the town. He made many donations to Bolton School and wanted to         
completely redesign Bolton town centre but his offer was not accepted by the           
In 1918, Lever bought the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, with the intention of making       
Stornoway an industrial town and building a fish cannery, his intentions were         
received badly by the islanders. He gave Lewis to its people in 1923, and             
concentrated his efforts on the southern portion of the island, known as Harris.       
He was created Baron Leverhulme on 21 June 1917, and Viscount Leverhulme on 27         
November 1922 - the hulme section of the title being in honour of his wife,           
Elizabeth Hulme. Upon his death, of pneumonia, in 1925, the Leverhulme                 
viscountcy passed to his son William Hulme Lever. It became extinct on the death       
of the third viscount, Philip William Bryce Lever, in 2000.