Clabber Girl/Hulman & Co.
Company recognized all over world by aqua-blue label
By Joanne Hammer

No one would guess Hulman & Co. used to be a small dry goods store at the edge of a dirt-paved town.

The company known for producing Clabber Girl Baking Powder is now recognized practically everywhere by the product's aqua-blue label showing a smiling girl holding a plate of biscuits.

It began with Herman Hulman, who emigrated from Hanover, Germany with encouragement from his brother, Francis. He joined his brother's grocery business until Francis died on a ship headed to Germany.

Herman Hulman, 27, continued to run the wholesale store at Fifth Street and Wabash Avenue (then known as "Main" Street). In 1869, he added a liquor house and spice mill, which could roast up to 100 sacks of coffee a day, according to documents with the Vigo County Historical Society.

Ever inventive, Herman installed Terre Haute's first telephone, which ran from his wholesale business to a distillery he owned near the Fairbanks Park area, said April Osburn, Clabber Girl museum tour guide and bake shop assistant manager.

His ingenuity expanded into baking powder, which fit into his store's product lines and would give his business a competitive edge.

At the time, baking powder was made from a mixture of baked fireplace ash and sour milk, called "clabber." The ingredients produced inconsistent results, no doubt frustrating many cooks.

In the late 1800s, Herman developed a formula for Milk Brand baking powder, which he perfected during the next 40 years.

As Herman's business grew, so did the need for a larger building.

In 1889, he bought property at Ninth Street and Wabash Avenue, where the old Pig & Whistle tavern stood. The new Hulman & Co. wholesale building opened in 1892 and customers jammed the building during its grand opening.

The early 1900s was an age that nurtured ingenuity. The baking powder was a dream to housewives, who could open a can and have their biscuits taste the same every time.

From the 1930s to the 1940s, Tony Hulman Jr. began a national advertising campaign for Clabber Girl. Signs, similar to billboards, were hung on barns and fences throughout the country. Instead of cash payment for the use of their property, farmers would receive items from the Hulman & Co. catalog.

As people began to cook less at home, Hulman & Co. changed its focus and began to market to food service industries, said Marla DeHart, Clabber Girl executive director of corporate operations.

The general merchandise and grocery business closed in 1995 and the company added cornstarch, baking soda and a multi-purpose baking mix to their product line. In 2003, the company bought Delisheries, a line of dry cookie and brownie mixes sold to fund-raising organizations.

The success that followed Herman Hulman has remained with Hulman & Co. Although Hulman & Co. exports its products to 32 nations, the company remains family-owned and promotes a family atmosphere for its 155 employees.

A museum opened in 2002 displaying the history of Clabber Girl and the technology of the time.

A year later, Antonia's Country Store and bake shop opened - where customers can get the same Rex brand coffee that was ground in the 1800s.

Joanne Hammer can be reached at (812) 231-4214 or joanne.hammer@tribstar.com.


 

Tribune-Star/Jim Avelis

Labels: Labels for the smaller cans of Clabber Girl baking powder roll around a spindle before being glued to cans.

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WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT CLABBER GIRL/HULMAN & CO.

- The most popular Clabber Girl size is the 10-ounce can. Hulman & Co. also makes a 22-ounce can and a 5-pound tub.

- Double-acting baking powder means it reacts to liquid and heat. Clabber Girl has a 30 percent reaction to liquid and a 70 percent reaction to heat.

- Clabber Brand baking powder was changed to Clabber Girl in 1923, when the Food and Drug Administration changed its labeling laws.

- Hulman & Co. bought Rumford Baking Powder in 1950 and moved the production to Terre Haute. The formula was the first calcium phosphate baking powder.

Find out more at the Clabber Girl museum

Hours
are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. For a guided tour, call (812) 232-9446.

Source: Hulman & Co.