The Rentokil Blog UK

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.

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  1. Posted January 25, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Stretching the truth?
    It was in 1927 when British Ratin was formed and Karl Gustav Anker- Petersen developed the brand.
    !960 was when Rentokil became the name and British Ratin was confined to history whilst the woodie side took over.
    Or is it a bit of rewriting history.

    • Posted January 26, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Hi Nick

      thanks for your insight. I’ve put Anker-Petersen back in! He rather unfairly got edited out. You seem to know a lot about our history, if you have any more information or stories you would like to tell in a blog about the history of pest control I would love to hear about it,


  2. Brigitta
    Posted January 26, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    a brilliant and interesting summary of how Rentokil was formed!

  3. Nick Anderson
    Posted January 30, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Alicia, a couple of errors again.
    You should get hold of “Rentokil 50 years of Service” and “Ratin Service” another 50 year celebraton.
    Halls of Westminster was treated before the first world war 1914.
    He was experimenting with HCN on blow flies in October 1926
    History of pest control is interesting stretching back to at least the Egyptians.
    Then the guilds of Ratcatchers, you should get a copy of “The Ratcatchers chld” by Snetsinger.
    It deals with Europe ratcatching/pest control before embarking and emigrating to America
    Wonder if a lot of your history was destroyed in the move from Felcourt,

  4. Posted January 31, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    From our vaults I have obtained a treasured, autographed copy of ‘Rentokil 50 years of service.’ Within its musty pages lie many stories long buried and forgotten, including the importance of pest control throughout the war (staff with more than three years employment were excluded from service) a ten year contract in 1965 to reclaim Hamelin back from the rats and the opening of a Woodworm and Pest Advisory Centre to educate that woodworm can be treated. Pre-Lefroy’s invention of fluid, cabinet-makers considered that furniture with woodworm holes should be burnt!

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