Americana: Clabber Girl

Clabber Girl is one of the oldest brands of home baking products still left on the shelves.

It all began in the early part of the year 1850 in Terre Haute, Indiana, 75 miles west of Indianapolis along the Wabash River, where a company was founded by the name of Hulman & Company, a family owned business. It was originally a wholesale grocery store that also sold liquor and tobacco. Francis Hulman had immigrated from Germany in the early 1800s and started a wholesale grocery business.

Herman Hulman Sr, and sons  

Sometime after this, Francis wrote to his half-brother still in Germany, Herman Hulman, telling him: “Come to America, and we will make money”, which he did after several requests. Herman reluctantly came to America from his home in Onasbruck, Hanover, Germany to Vigo County in 1854. This would change the history of Wabash Valley. Originally Francis Hulman had moved to Terre Haute from Cincinnati in 1850 when the store had opened as a wholesale grocery house.Inviting Herman to join the family
business ended up making the company a dynasty in the state of Indiana.

Tragedy struck when Francis Hulman and his family were lost at sea on the steamship Austria in 1858 while returning from a visit to Germany. Herman then took over, struggling to operate the company alone until he became partners with a local competitor, Robert S. Cox, Jr. in 1869. During that period Herman added a storeroom and spice mill behind the main store. Herman was carrying out the vision and dreams of his late brother, Francis Hulman. In 1870, Herman acquired the city’s largest distillery from Alexander McGregor and it soon became the largest producer of distilled spirits in western Indiana. In 1872, Herman and his wife, Antonia purchased the 16-room Ohio Street mansion that was built in 1850 by John Palmer Usher, Secretary of the Interior for Abraham Lincoln.

In 1875, the Hulman family decided to spend several months in Germany, and when he returned sold the distillery to Crawford Fairbanks, later he reacquired half of it. In 1878, Herman traded his share of the distillery to Cox in exchange for Cox’s share in the wholesale grocery business.

Herman oldest son, Anton Hulman and Benjamin G. Cox became his partners in 1886 under the name “Hulman & Co.”. Despite several expansions, the Fifth and Wabash building was too small, so in 1892, Hulman & Co. built Indiana’s largest wholesale grocery establishment at 900 Wabash Avenue. More than 5,000 people attended its grand opening on September 28th, 1893. i

Herman’s youngest son, Herman Hulman Jr., joined the firm after Benjamin G. Cox’s death in 1898.

By then, the baking powder first produced by Herman had joined other products produced on the premises: roasted coffee, fancy tea and spices, as well as extracts, liquors, and tobacco items – all packaged at the Wabash Avenue site. Hulman & Company brand name was beginning to be familiar nationally.

Starting with Herman, the Hulman family had become a great benefactor to the community of Terre Haute. The family was key in establishing St. Benedict Catholic Church in 1864, as well as luring other industry to the city. In 1883, Herman acquired the land and buildings which once housed Terre Haute Female College and St. Agnes Hall, donating the real estate to the Poor Sisters of St. Francis for hospital use. When the facility opened in early 1884, it was named “St. Anthony” in memory of Antonia Hulman who died on April 17th, 1883.

Herman Hulman had become a wealthy man, but despite this, those that knew him described him as a modest man who was physically active until his death on July 14th,
1913. He was 82 years old.

Wabash St. Bldg

In his memory, two sons gave a portion of the Hulman farm for a new Rose Polytechnic site and paid off all debt at the Calvary Catholic Cemetery. The Usher-Hulman residence was donated to the Red Cross. Today, the Ameritech/AT&T office now occupies that site. ii

Anton “Tony” Hulman and Mary Fendrich Hulman made the biggest impact upon the Hulman dynasty. Their daughter Mary Antonia Hulman, married name George, had a son Tony George (born Anton Hulman George) who now is the living descendant from the original Herman Hulman who made a grocery wholesale store and a product called Clabber Girl baking powder – which in turn made more money by other investments.

The baking powder was created by Herman Hulman, first marketed as powdered “milk” in 1887. From 1899 to 1923, “Clabber” baking powder was marked until the formula was perfected and the name changed to “Clabber Girl Baking Powder”.
In the 1920s, Tony Hulman Jr., Herman’s grandson, made Clabber Girl a household name and it became the Number One selling baking powder in the United States. The Hulman & Company is still a privately owned business and Clabber Girl is distributed in the United States as well as several foreign countries. The company also produces canned corn starch.Back in the 1800s, people would mix clabbered milk (sour milk) with pearl ash, soda, cream of tartar and a few other ingredients to make baking powder. Herman Hulman and his grandson refined the mixture and the product was perfected by the beginning of the 1900s.

Anton Hulman “Tony” George (born in 1959) and son (Jr) is the surviving member of the Hulman dynasty, whose grandfather, Tony Hulman, purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, founded by a visionary by the name of Carl G. Fisher which was constructed in 1909. It was nicknamed the “Brickyard”. During the Great Depression, the track fell into decay, but improvements were made in the early 1940s.

When the United States became involved in World War II, gasoline rationing caused cancellation of auto racing due to a ban on all auto racing. The track sat dormant between 1942 and 1945. Wilbur Shaw, three-time Indy 500 winner, was afraid that it would be bought and turned into a housing development area and shocked it was in such bad
shape. He sent out letters to the auto industry to find a buyer, after discovering that the owner, Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I flying ace had it up for sale. In 1945, Shaw contacted Tony Hulman, by then a well-known businessman, and after several meetings, convinced him to purchase it because he was interested in rebuilding the track and making improvements to make it once again a big attraction. To this day, the Hulman family still own it and the rest is history.

All this came about because German immigrants who came to America to achieve opportunity, started a wholesale grocery store and a simple product like baking powder and corn starch. They did it with hard work and dedication without the help of government welfare programs we see so prolific today. They were immigrants who came here and assimilated as Americans, not pocketed multicultural geographical areas using the freedom of free enterprise to succeed with innovative ideas and dedication to their goals.

Today the Hulman & Company grocery store is no longer, but the manufacture business is. The new generation is focusing upon the 150-year-old race track that made Indianapolis famous.

It is an example of the American legacy, where people from everywhere have arrived on the shores of North America to have the opportunity provided by a free nation. It is a legacy that Americans should be proud of and a legacy that should be preserved.

We the People should insist that our government reform and that the American people of several origins from other places, who now are American citizens, must unite as a free people and stand against those that would corrupt and dissolve the hallmarks of what was created – a democratic republic that honors the US Constitution and its amendments and a people whose standards and values allow it to remain so.

This story is only one out of a multitude of Americans during the course of our history who set out with a vision and succeeded. It should be an incentive for young Americans today, a model to follow, and a purpose in their lives to elevate themselves as well as contribute to the community – rather than
rely on government (other taxpayers) to do so.

I found a link that shows, through a historical document of the Hulman family estate, how the “Death Tax” (Inheritance Tax) is so unfair and despicable it is. The “Inheritance/Estate Tax” was passed in 1913, signed by Woodrow Wilson and congressmen who represent the bad part of our government. It is wrong to tax anything more than once – and that is exactly what the Death Tax does. A citizen pays income and real estate taxes all his life, and when it their time to depart Earth arrives, their beneficiaries are hit with a tax upon the deceased person’s estate.
Family businesses have gone out of business because of this tax. The main reason is that while the combined property and assets of the estate may arrive to a goodly amount, the tax must be paid out of any cash on hand or existing bank accounts. It adds an unnecessary burden to any family who is already in grief over the loss of their loved one, as well as the process of contending with legal affairs and other matters that must be done.

For once and for all time – the “Inheritance”, “Estate”, “Death” tax must end. It is only one example of the greed of those that operate our government, always looking for a new way to obtain revenue, while they continue to waste tax dollars in a never-ending flurry of overspending.

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History of Hulman business deals

Clabber Girl Museum

Clabber Girl Online Store

Clabber Girl Recipes

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Indiana State Educational website.

ii  This biography information is primarily from a profile sheet printed by the Terre Haute First National Bank, September 1999.