Written by John J. Watson
James J. Watson began Watson Inc. under the name Watson Flour Company in July 1939, in space rented at 30-30 Northern Blvd., Long Island City, New York. The company did not mill flour but its primary product was manufacturing donut mixes which the industry then referred to as “donut flours.” At about this time, the attack on Pearl Harbor caused our country to enter World War II and the government established the Office of Price Administration (OPA). In addition to freezing the selling prices of all manufactured products, the OPA started rationing. Most important for the very young Watson Flour, sugar and shortening – major ingredients in donut flours – were rationed. The rationed amount of these two ingredients was established as a percentage of the purchased amount in the year 1939. Needless to say, our allocation was very small, and with selling prices frozen as of 1939 Watson Flour had to make other products such as cake mixes, muffin mixes, and bread improvers.
Robert Watson joined his father James in the business in 1939. Robert, like his father, had baking experience and was able to contribute to the formulation of many products. Unfortunately, as the war continued and more soldiers were needed, Robert was drafted into the army and served in the European theater. James Watson struggled to keep his young business going.
In 1946, the war is over, James and his son Robert decided that they needed to build a factory of their own to better serve their needs. They chose a site in Woodside, Long Island, and built a factory of 13,800 square feet. John J. Watson joined his father and brother in the business in 1951. Then in 1952, the government called John Watson to serve in the Korean War until September 1954. Following this date, he rejoined the company.
During the next few years, Watson Flour acquired the Flour Enrichment Products Company from Roy Dodson. This gave Watson Flour a focus on nutritional products. At about the same time Watson Flour began, with the cooperation of the Dow Chemical Company, to develop the first water-soluble edible packaging film for packaging bakery additives, and vitamins and minerals premixes. The Charles Pfizer Company saw the latter concept in 1958 and asked Watson Flour to make these products for them. In 1963, when Pfizer made the decision to turn their attention in other directions, Watson Flour was able to buy this division from them and thus obtain a substantial position in nutritional additives for the food industry. In 1964, because Dow no longer made the edible film, a manufacturing facility was purchased in Rockville, Connecticut for this purpose.
In 1982, Watson purchased Nopa Laboratories (a small pharmaceutical firm in Pana, Illinois) and the enrichment business of the Stauffer Chemical Company, which had previously been purchased from Merck & Company Sterwin Chemical (Sterwin Winthrop Drug Company). In 1983, the third generation of the Watson family joined the company in the person of James Thomas Watson.
In 1986, the Watson Foods Company closed down its Woodside plant and relocated to a seven-acre site in West Haven, Connecticut. This is now the location of Watson’s main manufacturing facility, with manufacturing totaling 85,000 square feet and a 50,000 square foot warehouse. Pursuing its nutritional plan further in 1992, Watson purchased Dufar’s nutritional premix division for the food industry and for US AID emergency relief programs. Watson Foods moved its Illinois production facility from Pana, Illinois to a 66,000 square foot building in Taylorville, Illinois. In 1992, Watson Foods closed its Rockville film manufacturing plant and moved it into the West Haven facility.
Today, the company is run by the third generation: James, Gavin, Mary, Moira, and Kenneth, with 220,000 square feet of buildings and over 250 employees. To reflect our diversified product line, we have changed our name to Watson Inc.