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The Tallman Perfume Co was once located at 102 South Cherry
Prime Focus

Tallman Perfume Company

Story by Teresa Nguyen

March, 2020

During the Civil War, the federal government used their facilities to manufacture surgeon's plasters and other supplies for medical field kits at the battlefields. 

New Town on the Rock

 

Janesville seems to have always attracted folks with an entrepreneurial spirit, people seeking change, rather than simply adapting to it. Hard working people with big ambitions have grown our city from the small stores our earliest settlers who ventured out west for better opportunities, to the most recent shops, a newly built hotel and hot new restaurants dotting Main and Milwaukee Streets in our booming downtown.

In our earliest days, one adventurous family, the Tallmans, arrived to the Rock River valley and this small community of settlers who were already building up the town. Most folks around here read and hear the stories of William Morrison Tallman, attorney and land speculator, who was also a well-known abolitionist. They visit his beautiful, cream city brick estate just above the west bank of the Rock River and celebrate his hosting of Abraham Lincoln at his home in 1859. 

But the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

 

William M.'s own sons  William H., Edgar D. and daughter, Augusta "Gussie", carried on the Tallman legacy, contributing to our city in numerous ways, playing an active role our growing community. This is the story of William Henry Tallman, the oldest of William Morrison’s children, who founded a successful perfume business, even bringing his brother on board, in our very own Janesville, Wisconsin.

Young William Henry

1830s - William Henry Tallman was born in New Haven, Conn., Feb. 14, 1832, the oldest son of William Morrison Tallman and Emeline Dexter Tallman.

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The grand Tallman family home in Janesville, Wisconsin

1840s – Young William was a clever young man and showed inventive ability and mechanical skill. At age 15, he worked in a New York drug store as a clerk for three years. At that time, prior to machinery, all pills were rolled by hand and cut with a spatula. 

1851 - Mr. Tallman came to Janesville and joined his parents, William M. and Emaline, who had made the trip out west the previous year. That same year, in 1851, a long 169 years ago, a beautiful brick building at 102 S. Cherry was built as the first church of Janesville's Baptist congregation. The religious congregation itself was formed in 1844.  

1852 - William purchased a third interest in the Holden, Kemp & Co. drug store.

1857 - William became head of the business and received the only honorable mention awarded to the United States for perfumes. 

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William H. Tallman

Tallman & Collins

1859 - William H. Tallman partnered with Henry W. Collins. A change was made and the firm became Tallman & Collins.

Late - 1850s - The area’s perfume industry was flourishing.  For a time, Tallman and Collins operated as an import and wholesale business. The company sold medicine, drugs, chemicals, perfumery, and liquors. 

1860s - During the Civil War, the federal government used their facilities to manufacture surgeon's plasters and other supplies for medical field kits at the battlefields. 

Tallman then switched his focus solely on perfume manufacturing, expanding the line with over 500 products!

Tallman and Collins bought a new building and the perfume laboratory and manufacturing business was moved to this large, brick structure on the downtown corner of Cherry and Pleasant streets, what is now Court Street.  

Meanwhile, William H. married Margaret “Maggie” J. Travis. They had two sons, William Travis and George Kemp, born a decade apart.

1864 - Tallman expanded the business to include manufacturing a new line of perfumes and extracts.

 

Spices and natural flavoring extracts were now a worldwide trade, but very expensive. Chemically synthesized flavors were a cheaper alternative for extra flavoring in recipes. Tallman and Collins had the business sense to join the flavoring market only 13 years after its world debut!

 

Though perfume was a typical, high society woman’s necessity, “Tallman's Florida Water” was also quite popular among the local gentlemen during this time. 

1867 - Tallman's Musk was well recognized perfume and the company won first prize at the Paris Exposition!

The old Tallman Perfume Co lab building as it looks in 2020
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Antique Tallman perfume bottles and an ad for the business

The Later Years

 

1869 - After various disagreements between the two men, Tallman and Collins came to an amicable agreement to end their business partnership. The company was renamed the Tallman Perfume Company, and was led by William Henry and his brother Edgar. 

1870s - The Tallman brothers continued focusing solely on perfume manufacture and their perfumes were immensely popular, selling in the millions!

1882 - Mr. William H. Tallman left to go into business in New York. However, after about a year and a half, William's health deteriorated and he returned to Janesville, retiring from active business. He remodeled the laboratory into a tobacco warehouse.

1883 - The Tallman Perfume Company business was officially closed. 

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1902 – William Henry Tallman died. William was a prominent community member and a supporter of the First Congregational Church for many years. He was also an organizer of the first sack company in the volunteer fire department and later made an honorable member of the company.

William’s son, George Kemp Tallman, eventually sold the perfume business to Willson-Monarch Laboratory in Edgerton.  

The Monarch Laboratory business was started by Benjamin and Dexter I. Willson as a small drug store in 1882. Its original location was in a building on Fulton street, then relocated to what is now known as the Willson Block.

The Monarch Laboratory business grew by leaps and bounds and Monarch Oil, a pain killer, was a favorite remedy of the time.

Numerous items, including Tallman perfume bottles are still in existence in the Janesville area and are seen as collector’s items.

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The grave stone of William Henry Tallman
and his wife Margaret Travis
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Hulick Brothers Litho occupied the building for many years. 

1990 - the building on Cherry Street was listed on the State and National Historic Register

The Cherry Street building’s current owners are Chris and Ron Sutterlin of Sutterlin Restorations, who work on restoring historical architecture throughout our community. They have done amazing work on such buildings as the old Marshall auditorium, now The Janesville Performing Arts Center, the Lincoln-Tallman House and this year, Ron was seen working on the exterior of the 175-year-old First Congregational Church.

2019 - In an interview for the local, Finial magazine, Chris talked about the interior of the building,

 

“While working on it, we found dried tobacco leaves on ledges above the acoustic ceiling and original perfume bottles from William Tallman’s business.

 

On one of the columns was written ‘I like Abe’. We left that intact.”

 

The building has housed a variety of businesses over the decades, including the tobacco warehouse and most notably, Hulick Brothers Litho, a local printing company.

A lower level staircase entrance off Cherry Street

Sources:

uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/WI/
pbs.org/independentlens/blog/riding-janesvilles-industrial-rollercoaster-1849-2009
campusarch.msu.edu
findagrave.com
stampauctionnextwork.com
antique-bottles.net