An Art Deco billboard on U.S. 40 east of Rose-Hulman offers a constant reminder of what made Hulman & Co. what it is today.
Tribune-Star photo/Rod Deuster
Ad campaign signals a new era
Baking powder had been part of the Hulman family empire since 1879, when Tony's grandfather Herman led his spice mill to produce ``Crystal'' and ``Dauntless,'' double-action baking powders he hoped to sell in Vigo, Sullivan, Parke and Putnam counties.
By 1899, Herman had introduced ``Clabber Baking Powder,'' a resounding regional success, according to the company history. On the label stood a woman churning milk, thus the name -- clabber means sour milk, though it was not an ingredient.
In 1923, a final formula overhaul brought a label still on cans today: a young woman holds a plate of biscuits as an elderly woman plucks a goose as children look on and a kitten studies a feather and a broken toy horse on the floor.
Tony knew baking powder like his father knew coffee. In 1931, both became his responsibility when his father turned over company management to him. ``You will have to see Tony,'' Anton Sr. told reluctant old-timers approaching him.
Tony would change the company's attitude and fortunes drastically. For a generation, it had relied on a slow but steady regional trade with little expansion and diversification. But, like his grandfather in the Gilded Age, Tony would make aggressive business decisions.
The first decision, in the fall of 1931, was to embark on a 10-year advertising campaign to boost Clabber Girl Baking Powder. An army of salesmen ranged as far south as Texas.
They nailed metal Clabber Girl signs to the weatherworn sides of innumerable mom-and-pop grocery stores, where apron-clad owners leaned over counters to chat as the creaking of the rocking chairs competed with the hammer's pounding. They nailed the signs to red barns, to urban fences, to just about anything; the signs would sometimes stay for years, rusted at the edges but smiling in the middle. They knocked on doors, asked the lady of the house to bake some cakes using Clabber Girl and took those cakes door-to-door, urging neighbors to give them a try.
That's when Terre Haute got its massive pale yellow Art Deco billboard with an east-facing clock along U.S. 40, not too far east of Indiana 46. ``Five minutes to Terre Haute,'' shout the big red letters, ``the home of Clabber Girl Baking Powder.''
In 1932, when the sales force numbered about 100 and the ad campaign was picking up speed, the company built the six-story baking powder plant still in operation today. Throughout the 1930s, as the nation struggled with the Depression and the city grappled with a combative general strike, Clabber Girl scaled grocery shelves to prominence. Tony also began adding to the family empire. He bought an office building in Evansville, the Richmond Gas Co., the Terre Haute Gas Corp. and an office building in Dayton, Ohio.
The success of Clabber Girl continued as the United States sank into a second world war and Anton Hulman Sr. died in Miami after a brief illness.
According to a January 1944 court document, the gross value of Anton's estate was more than $5 million, including stocks worth more than $2 million. Grace paid taxes on $1.09 million, while Tony's portion was $1.102 million.
Anton's legacy included few public philanthropic efforts other than he and his brother's gifts to Rose Polytechnic Institute and Calvary Cemetery. Unlike his father, he would not open a public hospital, he would not finance a grand new church. But the Hulman Foundation he created in 1940 would make all the difference to Rose three decades later.