Sir James Reckitt was born in Nottingham in November 1833, the youngest son of Isaac and Ann Reckitt. The Reckitt family had been members of the Society of Friends since the 17th century and James remained true to his Quaker beliefs throughout his life.
In 1840 Isaac Reckitt moved to Hull and rented a small starch factory in Dansom Lane in the city. In 1845 James was sent to Ackworth, the Quaker school near Pontefract. He left Ackworth in 1848, aged 15, and began work in the family starch business as a junior clerk.
In 1864 James and his brother Francis became sole partners of the Reckitt company and the business grew steadily under their leadership.
Reckitts’ began developing a wider range of products and by 1870 was employing around 300 people. It was becoming a major employer within the city with a reputation for looking after its employees.
Its success was built around delivering quality products which were distinctively branded and well advertised. By 1920 the company had an international presence with branches in many countries.
James’s Quaker upbringing meant that the Reckitt company was run in an ethical and paternalistic way, with a high priority given to the care of the workforce. It also led him to the view that company profits ought to be used for the public benefit.
For example, he gave his support to the Newland Homes for the orphans of men lost at sea, and paid for the building of one of the children’s homes on the site. He led a campaign for a public library in Hull and, when the city authorities declined to build one, he built one at his own cost. He was chairman of the board of management of Hull Royal Infirmary for over 20 years and helped buy a derelict hotel in Withernsea and had it converted into a convalescent home for the hospital.