In 1865, a chemist named Dr George Wander set up a laboratory in Berne, Switzerland, to investigate the nutritional values of barley malt. He was so impressed with its qualities, especially as a food for children, that he commenced manufacture of malt extract and launched the now world-famous food drink ‘Ovaltine’. Wander hoped that the drink would help to reduce the high infant mortality rate.
It was based on the vitamin-rich properties of malt extract and, combined with milk, eggs and cocoa, it quickly became recognised as an ideal combination of essential nutrients in a delicious and satisfying warm drink. Ovaltine was placed on the market in Switzerland in 1904 and then, in 1906, exported to the UK.
In 1910, the British Company was founded to sell and later manufacture Ovaltine. Kings Langley was chosen as the site for the UK manufacturing facility. It was the ideal location, with a plentiful supply of water, good transport links and suitable farmland for the supply of barley, fresh eggs and milk. It also had a large enough population to supply workers for the factory.
Ovaltine was at the forefront of advertising, utilising new techniques when they became available e.g. Ovaltine was one of the first brands to be promoted when commercial television launched in 1955.
In 1935, Ovaltine launched ‘The Ovaltineys’, a family radio show which aired on Radio Luxembourg. The song: “We are the Ovaltineys” became one of the most famous jingles of all time. By 1939 there were over 5 million members in The Ovaltiney League. Mrs Barbara Markovitz of Berkhamsted was an ‘Ovaltiney’ and remembers collecting badges and magazines and cheerfully singing the famous song.
The programme halted when Radio Luxembourg closed transmission at the outbreak of the Second World War, but it reappeared in 1946, to run on for several more years. The Club re-launched in the late 1960s with Morecambe and Wise as its Presidents.
The company expanded their nutritional knowledge and their products to include Ovaltine Instant Milk, Drinking Chocolate, Teething Rusks and even Contour Low Calorie Meals. It is now owned, like Twinings, by Associated British Foods.
In 2002, the Kings Langley factory produced its last jar of Ovaltine, after nearly a century of continuous production. Novartis relocated back to Switzerland and the historic Ovaltine collection came to The Museum Store. Although Ovaltine is no longer produced in Dacorum, commuters on the trains to and from Euston can still see the famous Art-Deco façade.
By the Dacorum Heritage Trust