Rumford Chemical Works

In 1753, Benjamin Thompson, an American born in Woburn, Massachusetts, escaped from "political complications" in this country by moving to England. There he served in the English army until 1784 when he entered the service of the Elector of Bavaria. For the following 14 years, Thompson devoted his time investigating ways of supplying nutritious foods at the lowest possible costs to the State. For his brilliant success in this endeavor, he was knighted "Count Rumford."

In 1797, Count Rumford made a liberal bequest to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston. From that time until 1800 he helped develop the plans for the Royal Institute of London and shortly after founded the Rumford Professorship of Chemistry at Harvard University. It was here, from 1847 until 1863, that Professor Eben. N. Horsford served as Rumford Professor.

Horsford came to Rhode Island in the late 1840's or early 1850's, and in 1854 met George F. Wilson. Together these two men began one of the largest and most successful chemical plants in the country... The Rumford Chemical Works. Established in 1854 and incorporated in 1859, the company maintained their offices, packing, printing, and binding departments, which covered more than an entire square, in the City of Providence. The actual manufacturing plant, although it never changed locations, was listed at different times in Riverside (East Providence, R.I.) and Seekonk Plains (Seekonk, Mass.). The "change" in location was due to a change in R.I. and Massachusetts' borders. Also at this location were the repair shop, carpenter shop, machine shop, cooper shop, harness shop, and an established library for the free use of the Works' employees.

The two men split their company duties with Horsford inventing and producing the chemicals and Wilson in the position of business manager. Eventually Wilson became the sole owner of the company.

The most popular chemical produced by the firm was Horsford's Acid Phosphate. This tonic concentrate was patented on March 10, 1868 and was continually manufactured until the early 1940's. When a teaspoon of the product was mixed with a glass of cold water and sugar, the result was a "... delicious and refreshing drink" similar to the present day lemon-lime drinks. This 'tonic' was taken to relieve mental and nervous exhaustion and 'cured' other ailments. It proved to be so popular in the United States, that it was exported to many foreign countries.

The earliest bottles containing Acid Phosphate were made of aqua glass, but when it was found that the contents became calcified when stored for longer periods of time, the bottles were colored to hide the occurrence. While this practice of 'hiding' the physical change of the phosphate may seem somewhat devious, the calcification was not detrimental concerning the effectiveness of the product. Inadvertently, the change from the common aqua to the more attractive teal blue color put a product on the shelves which stood out in appearance, increasing the product's overall sales and marketability.

The teal blue Acid Phosphate bottles are striking not only in their shape but also in the color as well. This bottle is commonly referred to as THE Rumford bottle. The teal blue color can be found in either light or dark hues, and some are found in teal green. The rarest known colors for the earlier bottles are deep olive green and aqua. At the present time very few of each color bottle have been reported.


The "W" which is found in the center panel arch is in reference to Wilson. Horsford's reference on these bottles is the name Rumford through his chairmanship as Rumford Professor at Harvard. The reference is also as a tribute to Thompson who did so much in the field of chemistry and nutrition.

When bottle making by machine became popular in the early 1900's, the teal blue color was eliminated. These machine made Phosphate bottles were produced in very light green and brilliant green but still retained the well known 8-sided shape and familiar embossing. The newest bottles are nondescript, being round and having no embossing only carrying the Rumford paper label.

The company produced many other products such as the famous Rumford's Baking Powder and Rumford's Yeast Powder which were actually the same product under two different names. The yeast powder bottles were available in 1, 2, 4, and 6 ounces sizes and bear the embossing "RUMFORD" on the shoulder of all except the 1 ounce bottle. The embossing on the 1 ounce bottle is on the base since the container was too small for body embossing. The Baking Powder bottles came in 4, 6, 8, and 16 ounce sizes. The necks on these were large enough to accommodate a spoon to remove the contents. Both the yeast and baking powder bottles are round and come in pale aqua.

Another Rumford bottle, which is just as common as the phosphate bottle but not as widely recognized, is the PHOSA bottle. In the mid-1800's, the Rumford Chemical Works manufactured a sparkling beverage named Phosa. It was prepared from Horsford's Acid Phosphate, pure fruit juices, and was 'charged' with carbonic gas. Phosa could be bought at public soda fountains as well as in individual bottles for home use. Touted as being ".... exhilarating but non intoxicating", and ".... absolutely pure, since only distilled water is used", the beverage became a best seller and was available in two flavors, Fruit and Ginger. The Phosa bottles made during the late 1800's and early 1900's can be readily found today. The lip is the crown top style and the overall shape is typical of a straight sided soda. The exception to the 'typical soda shape' is that there are two rectangular indentations on the front and back at the shoulder, similar to the indentations found on some Codd type sodas. The only embossing found on these bottles is PHOSA on the front and back and REGISTERED on the heel. These bottles can be found blown in mold form or machine made and are approximately 8 1/4" high and are found in a light aqua color.

The success of the Rumford Chemical Company is evident in the fact that even after almost 150 years the company is still going strong although not in Rhode Island. Today the company's headquarters are located in Terre Haute, Indiana.