Henkel was founded in 1876 by Fritz Henkel and his two partners in Aachen, Germany. A laundry detergent based on sodium silicate, named Universal-Waschmittel, was the company's product. The company sold the heavy-duty detergent in handy packets, unlike the other detergents of the time which available in loose powder form.
In 1878, Henkel relocated the company to Düsseldorf on the Rhine, its present site. He did this to take advantage of the better transport links and sales opportunities. In 1883, Henkel decided to sell merchandise other than his detergents in order to improve liquidity and make better use of the company's traveling sales staff. Sales for a liquid cleaning agent, beef extract, hair pomade and more began in 1884.
In 1893, Fritz Henkel, Jr. joined the firm as an apprentice. He soon became his father's right-hand man in commercial matters. Eventually, he became a partner in Henkel, which in 1904 was became a general commercial partnership. In 1912, Henkel's total production in Düsseldorf was 49,890 tons.
In 1974, Henkel acquired shares in The Clorox Company. It also purchased The Dial Corporation and the American cosmetics company Advanced Research Laboratories in 2004. In 2014, Henkel acquired French-based laundry aids-to-shoe polish manufacturer Spotless, increasing their share of the $82 billion global laundry care market to 8.7%, however still well behind Procter & Gamble's 26.6%