Fame and Misfortune

There’s an interesting tale with a twist behind the name Rentokil.

Back in the roaring twenties when Rentokil was formed, little did Harold Maxwell-Lefroy, Professor of Entomology at Imperial College, London, know that Death watch beetles would immortalize his name and also be the very death of him.

Lefroy’s star began to rise in India. In 1905 he was involved in the creation of the Imperial Agricultural Research Institute. Lefroy brought together all the entomologists of the country. They met, dressed in cool cream linen suits, drank medicinal gin and tonic (being entomologists they knew all about quinine) and talked about bugs. He worked his way through the ranks and was appointed the first Imperial Entomolgist.

Lefroy returned to the grey skies of London. In the early 1920s, he was asked by Sir Frank Baines, Principal Architect of the Office of Works, to study ways of exterminating Death watch beetles that had been found in Westminster Hall, beside the Houses of Parliament. Terribly excited, he retired to his laboratory and devised a ground breaking product called Ento-Kill. Ento is from the Latin name for insect so Rentokil is really a fancy word for insecticide. Lefoy tried to register the name Entokill, but some bothersome person had got there first so Rentokil was born. If you work through the alphabet the ‘R’ is the really the only letter which works, and it sort of sounds like Entokil. It was also forward thinking as back then Lefroy only sold the product. Today you can ‘rent’ a technician with the product. He was clearly a man with vision.

Anyway, the word spread and Lefroy began receiving regular orders from people who had heard about his work. In 1924, Lefroy and his assistant Miss Elizabeth Eades set up shop and started selling the revolutionary anti-woodworm fluid from a small factory in Hatton Garden.

The sad twist is that the Death watch beetle finally brought its wrath upon Lefroy. Later that year, whilst experimenting in his laboratory he was accidentally overcome by toxic fumes. His assistant picked up the business and got her revenge on the Death watch beetle by selling thousands upon thousands of bottles of woodworm treatment.

There’s also a parallel story about rats and mice. Three years before Lefroy set sail for India, Danish pharmacist, Georg Neumann of Aalborg discovered a strain of bacteria lethal to rodents. This became known commercially as Ratin.

A fellow Dane, Sophus Berendsen A/S , secured the sales rights to Ratin for Denmark, Sweden and the British Isles. The first London sales office was opened in 1906. In 1927 Karl Gustav Anker-Petersen re-launched the company as British Ratin. He realised that there was a gap in the market because no one really wants to catch rats and mice. They would prefer someone to do that for them and from hence onwards the service aspect of pest control became the main focus for the business.

In the 1950s British Ratin made several acquisitions, one of which was Rentokil and after much debate behind closed doors in high powered boardrooms the name Rentokil triumphed over British Ratin. Little did Lefroy know that he inadvertently created one of the biggest brand names in the world or that he would have his own Facebook page.

  1. Nick Anderson
    • Alicia
  2. Brigitta
  3. Nick Anderson
  4. Alicia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *