How Liddell became a World-Famous Luxury Linen Company

For 150-years, Liddell has supplied the world with the some of the finest luxury linens. To celebrate this monumental milestone, the company has released a video that charts the history of the Irish-born luxury linen company.

For a company that has reached such an age, it’s going to have more than a handful of notable inclusions to history to its name. Notable events include setting up The Factory Society for the Sick to look after the health of factory workers, to supplying luxury linen to the RMS Titanic before it set-off on its ill-fated voyage. There are more events, all of which have been documented in the Liddell ‘150 years in the Making’ history booklet.

In the rest of this article, we’ll take a look at how Liddell has enjoyed such a long lifespan to become such a well-respected named. We’ll also look into how life has drastically changed since 1866 and the things that Liddell is older than.

Ensuring workers are cared for.

Liddell factory Donacloney Ireland

The Liddell factory in Donacloney, Ireland

William Liddell founded William Liddell and Company in 1866 with the establishment of a factory in Donacloney, Ireland. Due to the tow’s position on the River Lagan, it was the ideal place to grow and ret the flax that would eventually become fine Irish linen.

While William quickly became a wealthy man, he never forgot that caring for your employees as people, rather than just workers, was the key to creating a healthy and productive working atmosphere. Wages were higher than the average wage in other factories, and the creation of the Factory Society for the Sick (a form of health insurance). William even commissioned the building of new homes near to the factory, so workers could safely and easily travel to work.

There is no doubt that this attentiveness to his employees well being contributed to the success of the company, and it’s something that Liddell continues to this day.

150-year old companies are a rare breed.

150 years in business is an achievement that few companies manage to replicate, especially in the modern world. According to Yale lecturer Richard Foster, the average lifespan of a company has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century. In the 1920s, successful companies would last an average of 67 years, while today they typically only exist for around 15 years. Despite this, Liddell remains as a prestigious name that is still highly respected around the world.

Why do some companies last so long and not others? When it comes to Liddell, there’s one big reason.

Small, family-run companies tend to last longer, and Liddell definitely fits this brief. William Liddell’s son, Charles, would take the leading role in running the Liddell factory after his father’s death in 1901. Up until 2001, the company was headed by an ancestor of the original Liddell family.

Today the company may not be directly connected to the Liddell family, but the ethos that were put in place firmly remain.

Adapting to change.

Liddell provided luxury linen to various forms of transport over the course of its history.

An ad for William Liddel & Co from some point in the 1950’s.

A company also has to remain strong by quickly adapting to change. The past 150 years has included huge events that changed the world, yet Liddell rode through the storms and managed to survive as a successful international company. It’s adapted to vast changes in technology, two devastating world wars, countless recessions and more.

During World War I and II, Liddell managed to production flowing by switching to producing munitions. It manufactured everything from bombs and bullets to parachute harnesses and gun covers. In regards to linen, Liddell also produced aircraft wing fabric and uniforms.

Liddell Bali Napkin Set Circa 1960s

A Liddell place mat ‘napkin’ set from the 1960’s.

Unfortunately, cheaper costs abroad saw much of the linen industry closing factories in Ireland and the UK and moving to countries such as India and China to cut production costs. William Liddell & Co took to producing linen in a variety of bold colours and patterns to keep up with current trends. The changing fashions in the 60’s and 70’s heavily inspired the colorful output.

By the 1980’s, the linen industry was dwindling. Liddell stayed at the forefront by investing heavily in new and developing computer technology, as well as giving the entire production process a major modernisation. Due to this, Liddell managed to stay in business in the face of competition from cheaper overseas competitors.

The Irish linen company would go on to supply 14 of the world’s leading airlines, as well as exclusive hotels such as the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the world famous Ritz Hotel in London. In the 1980’s and 90’s, Liddell even supplied the British Airways Concorde with linen napkins and cushion covers.

Despite all these changes, one thing that has always remained the same is the quality and expertise that goes into creating every single piece of luxurious linen that finds its way into the finest hotels and restaurants around the world.

To give an overall picture, here are some facts about how the world has changed during Liddell’s 150-year history.

During Liddell’s lifetime we have had:

  • Six monarchs – Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II.
  • Ten recessions – The first of which began a year after Liddell’s birth in 1867. It was an impact on exports that resulted from the American post-civil war recession. It resulted in a 1.9% fall in GDP.
  • 62 UK wars and 9 Ireland wars, including two world wars.
  • There have been 312 human spaceflights and thousands of unmanned spaceflights, we’ve been to the moon numerous times and rovers now drive around on Mars.

Given Liddell’s long history, it’s inevitable that the company would predate some of the most important inventions in the last century or so. Companies can struggle to adapt to big changes in technology and the rapid development that follows, but as we’ve already mentioned, Liddell always made sure it kept up to date so that it could always deliver the excellent service that customers had come to expect.

Here are some of the most notable inventions that the company is older than.

What is Liddell Older than?

Liddell 1903 ad

A Liddell advert from Century Magazine in 1903.

Telephones – While the idea of a “speaking telegraph” was first proposed by Italian inventor Innocenzo Manzetti in 1844, it wasn’t until 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell’s filed his famous patent for a device that produced a “clearly intelligible replication of the human voice”.

Radio – Experiments began in “wireless telegraphy” as early as the 1830’s, but the human voice wasn’t transmitted wirelessly for the first time until 1900. Roberto Landell de Moura, a Brazilian priest who conducted the experiment publically in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Television – A facsimile transmission system for the mechanical scanning and transmission of images (which would eventually become the fax machine) was introduced by Alexander Bain between 1843 and 1846, but it wasn’t until 1926 when Scottish inventor John Logie Baird managed to transmit an image of a face in motion by radio.

Movies – ‘Sallie Gardner at a Gallop’ is commonly cited as the first film. It is a series of 24 photographs of a galloping horse shot in rapid succession and shown on a zoopraxiscope. However, this is more of a precursor to the development of motion pictures. ‘Roundhay Garden Scene’, a 2.11-second silent film recorded in 1888, is the oldest surviving film in existence.

Motor vehicle – While the inventor of the motor vehicle is often disputed, most sources credit German engineer Karl Benz as the inventor of the modern car. His Motorwagen was first built in 1885.

Powered flight – The first powered flight was made by the Wright brothers on December 17, 1903. However, Gustave Whitehead claimed to have carried out a powered flight in his No. 21 monoplane two and a half years before on August 14, 1901.

Light bulb – Thomas Edison wouldn’t produce the first practical light bulb and be granted a U.S. patent until 1879.

Dynamite – Alfred Nobel invented this safer alternative to gunpowder and nitroglycerine a year after Liddell was established.

Finally, let’s take a look at other births in 1866.

Notable births in 1866

The birth of William Liddell and Company wasn’t the only significant birth of 1866. Notable births included the celebrated English children’s author Beatrix Potter, English writer H.G. Wells

Two other companies born in 1866 were General Mills (manufacturer of such brands as Cheerios, Pillsbury and Old El Paso) and food & drink manufacturer Nestle.

The story continues…

Liddell will continue to provide the world with luxury linen, now under the roof of Vision Support Services – a global textile company. A forward-thinking vision, the highest-quality textiles, and pure passion will see the company through the next 150 years!

Posted 25th July, 2016