- The biography of Joseph Ray Watkins, founder of Watkins Products is included to dispute the contention that he was related to my family line of Watkins.
Entrepreneur and founder of Watkins International.
Joseph Ray Watkins, the second son and third child of Benjamin and Sophronia Watkins, was born on Aug. 21, 1840 seven miles north of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Watkins grandfather came to the area via a flatboat, which landed at Fort Washington on the Ohio River several miles west of what would become Cincinnati. He and his family started from Elizabeth, N.J., in a wagon hitched to a team of oxen. The wagon was loaded with his blacksmith tools and a nail-cutting machine.
After crossing the mountains, the family loaded the flatboat and floated to their destination. The nail machine was the first ever to cross the Allegheny Mountains, but it was crude and hand-powered. During the War of 1812, the machine-manufactured nails sold for 35 cents a pound in Spanish silver.
Young Joseph and his brother, William, received their education at a college in their neighbourhood founded by Samuel and Freeman Cary before the boys' father, the Rev. B. U. Watkins, took the family to Minnesota to escape becoming involved in the Civil War. The elder Watkins sold the old homestead in 1862 and booked passage on a steamboat on the Ohio River, finishing the journey to Maine Prairie, in Stearns County, by wagon.
He purchased a farm May 1862 from N. P. Clarke of St. Cloud, Minn., on the west short of Pearl Lake. The land, approximately 1,000 acres, made a serene homesite for the Watkins family, albeit one of short duration. In August, a rumour of the New Ulm Indian massacre prompted a meeting of the settlers to discuss some means of defense. They decided to construct a fort to protect themselves, and hopefully, their crops, which were already ripening.
The fort, despite its hasty construction, was an imposing structure, but was never put to a test of strength. Perhaps its very existence prevented another massacre. As the snow came that autumn, the settlers dispersed to their farms again. The following year, amid raiding parties and skirmishes, the government issued a $300 bounty on the scalps of Indians, and the order caused the Indians to move past the Missouri River.
For Minnesotans, the threat of the Indian war was ended. Watkins spent those years in quiet harmony with his surroundings and later said this was the happiest time of his life.
By 1868, Watkins had ventured to southern Minnesota and from the kitchen of his home in Plainview was manufacturing and distributing linament. He bottled the mixture by hand in a woodshed and sold the concoction to nearby farmers and villagers from his buggy. He became well known in the area, and he eventually carved out a sales territory within a 100-mile radius of his home. He built his business on his trademark of satisfaction guaranteed or money refunded.
J. R. and his wife, Mary Ellen, were the parents of two children: a son, George, who died at 14 months of age; and a daughter, Grace, who was born in Plainview in 1877.
In 1885, Watkins moved his thriving business, known as J. R. Watkins Medical Company, to Winona to gain easier access to the raw products necessary for his merchandise. he rented a four-room house, living in half and using the rest to manufacture his linament, extracts, salves and various home remedies.
His daughter, Grace, married E. L. King in Winona in 1904, the same year that her mother, Mary Ellen, died. J. R. later married his son-in-laws mother, Martha King, but he died in Jamaica in late December 1911, just three months after marrying his second wife.
Biography and photo from the Watkins Family History Society.