Rose’s lime juice was first patented in 1867. As a child I could not get enough of its invigorating, slightly sour taste. I imagined Rose was a woman, as in Cider with Rosie, but no: she was a he!
The Rose family were shipbuilders in Leith near Edinburgh, Scotland, and Lauchlin Rose set up a branch of business provisioning ships with supplies which included lime juice. Lime juice was remedy against scurvy and the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 made it compulsory for all ocean going ships to carry lime juice rations.
The passing of the Merchant Shipping Act by the British Parliament had been a long time coming. Naval Surgeon James Lind’s studies of the effect of vitamin C on the human organism encouraged Gilbert Blane and Thomas Trotter to continue studying its effects. The report of their observations published in 1815 made the authorities sit up and take note and sailors in both the Royal Navy and the British Mercantile Marine were to benefit enormously.
The Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 describes the quality of lime juice must have and provided for a detailed manual telling when the crew should take their daily rations of lime juice. Eventually scurvy on the high seas was brought under control but not before Lauchlin Rose had patented the method used to preserve citrus juice without alcohol. The Merchant Shipping Act made his product nearly ubiquitous, hence – possibly – the term “limey” for British sailors. The brand was introduced to the United States in 1901.
Lauchlin Rose realised that while neat lime juice taken for medical purposes by sailors might not be everyone’s cup of tea [is that a mixed metaphor?], a sweetened, bottled, and attractively labelled lime juice could well become popular in Britain. In 1868 the first factory producing lime juice was set up (by Rose) on Commercial Street in Leith. In 1893 he bought estates in Dominica and planted lime trees to meet the demand for his new drink. At one time the lush island of Dominica was the world’s largest producer of limes. By 1924 lime juice had become so popular that the company established new plantations on the Gold Coast to supplement supplies.
After the end of World War II, the company saw its market share in the United Kingdom grow. In 1957, Schweppes acquired the company and operated it in the UK where Rose’s lime juice mixed with ice-cold tonic water made by “Schhh… You Know Who” became a fashionable non-alcoholic alternative to vodka and lime.
There are many imitations but, as the poet observed, while a Rose’s by any other name would smell as sweet, it certainly doesn’t taste the same!