How a safety item started a company: the story of Furst-McNess Company

Before starting their own company, Frank E. Furst and Frederick W. McNess worked for the W.T. Rawleigh Company out of Freeport, Illinois. McNess has come on board as a chemist to create products for the Midwestern company. These two men went to their employer with a novel idea, they wanted to make the products safer for consumers.

Up to that point, companies like Rawleigh’s and J.R. Watkins sold their medicines and other products in glass bottles that had a “trial line” printed right on the glass. The idea was that consumers could try a little bit of the product, and if they didn’t go past the trial mark, they could return the bottle and get their money back.

The problem came in that customers might go past the trial mark but still want their money back. So the simple, although not ethical, solution was to pour some other item of the same color into the bottle to get it back up past the trial point. This became extremely unsanitary when salesmen, who were in all parts of the country, would resell the refilled product to other customers instead of shipping it back to the headquarters for a replacement. (Why turn away a sale when you have something in hand to sell?) 

A picture of an early sanitary seal for Furst-McNess Company.

Mr. Furst and Mr. McNess realized this was a problem and approached their employer, William Thomas Rawleigh, with their idea of creating the first “safety seal”. A tamper-proof top that shows whether a bottle has been opened or not. In addition, they wanted to create the first “sample size” bottle, a small bottle that they would sell or give away that was enough to try out and encourage the consumer to purchase a full-sized bottle the next time. In addition, the two wanted to update the facilities to have more sanitary manufacturing conditions.

However, W.T. Rawleigh didn’t like their ideas. Things evidently were working just fine the way they were in his mind and he didn’t see any reason to change the way they did business.

So Frank Furst and Frederick McNess decided to leave their employer and start their own company. In 1908 they opened Furst-McNess Company in Freeport, Illinois instituting new sanitary manufacturing practices, offering the first safety seal on all of their products, and created sample size bottles replacing the industry practice of trial marks. This approach hit a mark with consumers, sales spurred tremendous growth. By 1919 the company build the “Sunlight Laboratory” in Freeport, a state-of-the-art facility to produce their growing line of products. By 1929 they built an addition to the facility.

Today sanitary manufacturing is well regulated, safety seals are available on every product, and no one would consider offering a trial line to return products. The innovations of over one hundred years ago created by Frank Furst and Frederick McNess have become mainstream operating procedures for all manufacturers. McNess Home Products are still available today and can be found with resellers across the country as well as online at

The F.W. McNess website is provided entirely to share interesting, historical information. Traditional McNess home products are still available today, visit to learn more.