Hulman & Company
Hulman & Company
Sales: $23.7 million (1999 est.)
NAIC: 311999 All Other Miscellaneous Food Manufacturing
Although Hulman & Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, is strictly a private, family enterprise, with several business interests, it is principally known as the producer of two brands of baking powder—Clabber Girl and Rumford—either of which can be found in almost any kitchen cabinet in the United States and, increasingly, many overseas cupboards. Recently, it has also developed and begun marketing new products, including baking soda and non-genetically modified cornstarch under both the Clabber Girl and Rumford labels; it has also indicated that in the future it will be adding new products to those two branded lines. In addition, the company produces baking powder under the KC and Hearth Club labels. Collectively, the Hulman brands have about a 65 percent share of the country’s retail baking powder market. Although an old, well-established company, Hulman & Co./Clabber Girl has taken to the Internet and launched two e-mail newsletters as part of its fresh initiatives: “Clabber Girl Club” for consumers and “What’s Cookin” for business customers. These are e-mailed directly to subscribers. The Hulman and allied families have owned the company since its founding in the mid-19th century.
Francis Hulman Founds the F.T. Hulman Wholesale Store
The history of Hulman & Co. is intricately bound up in the intriguing history of the Hulman and related families, noted more for their philanthropy and involvement in auto racing than as a business dynasty. The Hulman fortune sprang from a wholesale grocery business started in the mid-19th century. Its wealth greatly increased when Mary Fendrich, heir to a fortune made in an Evansville, Indiana, cigar-manufacturing business, married Anton Hulman, Jr., heir to Hulman & Co. and the grandnephew of Hulman & Co.’s founder, Francis Hulman.
The Hulmans have always acknowledged the role played by John Bernhard Ludowici in the making of their family fortune. Ludowici was born in 1809, in Westphalia, Germany. His family immigrated to the United States and settled in Cincinnati, where he became a grocer. It was there that he met and befriended Francis Hulman, also a German immigrant. Francis had left a Paris bookkeeping job to follow his older brother, Johann Diedrich Hulman, to America. In Cincinnati, with partner Charles B. Meyer, the younger Hulman started importing toys, jewelry, toilet articles, and sundry personal items to that Ohio city, but the trade’s instability discouraged him, and he left the business. He then linked up with Ludowici, who convinced him to move to Terre Haute, where, in 1850, he opened a wholesale grocery, tobacco, and liquor store, although exactly where it was located in what was then largely a frontier town remains a mystery.
The partnership was short-lived. Hulman was a more dynamic, less conservative businessman than Ludowici. He was the front man, a drummer, working the store floor, while his partner stayed more in the shadows, among the goods. The pair had a resentful falling out over Hulman’s demands that he receive a higher percentage of the profits, and in 1853 they dissolved the partnership. Because he was the major investor, Ludowici kept the store. A few months later, Francis Hulman opened his own operation, naming it the F.T. Hulman Wholesale Store.
In the next year, 1854, Francis’ younger half-brother, Herman Hulman, at age 23, joined Francis to work as a salesman. Another brother, Theodore, joined them in 1857. With their help, Francis turned his business into a very successful enterprise, eclipsing that of his former partner and mentor, Ludowici. But then disaster struck. In September 1858, Francis, his wife, and child died when the Austria, a ship they were returning on from a European vacation, burned at sea and sank. Thus, at 27, Herman became the proprietor of the family business.
Herman Hulman, the Family Patriarch
During the 1860s, despite the economic ravages of the Civil War and its aftermath, the Hulman business continued to thrive, but not without personal cost. Success prompted Herman, in 1869, to add a storeroom to the store and a spice mill behind it. Then, somewhat later in the year, he merged his business with that of his chief competitor, R.S. Cox, Jr., forming Hulman & Cox. The partners then bought the Alexander McGreggor Distillery, which was destined to become one of the country’s largest, though not when owned by Hulman and Cox. Herman sold the distillery in 1875, then repurchased a half interest. Thereafter, in 1878, he traded his share of the distillery to Benjamin G. Cox for his half interest in Hulman & Cox, thereby dissolving that company.
Although Hulman was officially a wholesale grocer, he bought and sold almost anything, from Dr. Gottlieb Fisk’s Bitters, which he endorsed, to railway carloads of cigars and coal oil. A major investor, he also bought stock in railroad, telephone, telegraph, water and sewage systems, and gas and electric companies. Not all his ventures succeeded, however. He briefly went into the broom manufacturing business, and, in 1881, even purchased a new factory. But the tough competition in the Cincinnati broom-making business finally drove him out of the market.
Although Herman managed to bear entrepreneurial pressures well, younger brother Theodore did not, and he was forced to retire from the family business in 1879. He took up vegetable farming on land the family would later sell to the government as a site for a large federal penitentiary. Herman’s older half-brother, Diedrich, who moved to Terre Haute from Charleston, Illinois, withdrew from the grocery business to raise bees. In 1882, Antonia, Herman’s wife, died, leaving him a request to expand a hospital that she had previously encouraged him to fund, the first of many philanthropic ventures of the Hulman family. Herman’s two sons, Anton and Herman, Jr., joined their father in his business. Anton, the older of the two, became a junior partner in 1885, but Herman, Jr., never really took a significant role until much later. He eloped and left Terre Haute, only returning after several years. He worked for Hulman & Co. in public relations until his death in 1922.
The main business project in Herman Hulman’s life was the construction of a new company building. It was completed and opened in September 1893. Of all the seemingly unlikely persons to do so, Eugene V. Debs gave a laudatory speech at the opening ceremonies. The union activist and future Socialist candidate for the U.S. presidency was, in fact, a close friend of the Hulmans and had for a brief span worked for the company, which, by the time the new building was erected, was called H. Hulman & Company.
Over the years, while developing and expanding the family business, Herman Hulman became intrigued with the problem of trying to produce an effective baking powder. As early as 1879, Hulman & Co. had started making some commercial products, including coffee and baking powder. First, Herman used his spice mill to produce “Crystal” and “Dauntless” double-action baking powders; then, in 1887, under the name “Milk,” the company begun marketing another, better baking powder. Hulman continued improving the formula for the baking powder, until, in 1899, under the name “Clabber Baking Powder,” Hulman started manufacturing what would become the company’s signature product: Clabber Girl Baking Powder. That name change, a new formula, and new packaging did not come until 1923, however.
Before his death in 1913, Herman oversaw the expansion of the family business and the development of additional philanthropic projects. His company’s reach expanded beyond Indiana into Kentucky and Illinois. It employed an estimated 50 or more traveling salesman and over 100 others, and it added branches in Mattoon and Paris, Illinois. In 1905, it also built a four-story facility in Evansville and in 1912 purchased a wholesale grocery in the small town of Brazil, both in Indiana. Prior to his death, Herman also set up Hulman & Co. as a partnership with his sons and retired from active control of its operation, but he still spent his days at the company’s facility in Terre Haute, conversing with friends and roaming around the building. Upon Herman’s death, Anton Hulman became the family patriarch and head of the company.
Company Survives Difficult War Years
Like his father, Anton was something of a workaholic, and World War I put him under considerable strain. Because of the wartime regulations, which restricted businesses to a single base in any given state, Hulman & Co. had to close its Brazil, Evansville, and Paris, Illinois, operations. Moreover, constant price fluctuations forced the company to sell products at very narrow profit margins, adding to Anton’s stress. Under doctors’ orders, by 1918 Anton had begun putting more of the company’s operational control on the shoulders of his brother and the family’s associates and began spending more time at his waterfront home in Miami.
Hulman & Co. introduced commercially produced baking powder more than 120 years ago. Our decades of research and refinement ensure a convenient, high quality baking powder that can be depended on for uniform and consistent performance batch after batch. Our dedicated staff is available to help you meet your needs, whether you need an SAS, SAPP, Orthophosphate, custom formulation of baking powder, or custom packaging.
The war years were tough on Hulman & Co. It never would reopen its branches in Brazil and Paris, though the operation in Evansville started up again after the armistice. Herman Hulman, Jr., died in 1922, the year before the company perfected its baking powder formula and began producing Clabber Girl Baking Powder, its most successful product. At the time, the company was still struggling to get back on its pre-war footing. It was in the mid 1920s that Anton (Tony) Hulman, Jr., joined the company. Although young Hulman was a Yale graduate, with a degree in administrative engineering, his father insisted that he start in the business at a low rung on the company ladder. That did not phase Tony one bit. In fact, during summers home from Yale, he had been driving company trucks, putting up signs, and calling on customers. He did not live like a low-level employee, however. In 1926, two years after he began full time with Hulman & Co., Tony married Mary Fendrich, heiress to a fortune made by her father in an Evansville cigar-manufacturing business. The family alliance would add greatly to the Hulman family wealth.
Tony’s chief task in the 1920s was to help pull the company out of the lethargy into which it had fallen during World War I. He worked hard to change the thinking at Hulman & Co. For a decade, the company had relied on a steady but listless regional trade, with no interest in either expansion or diversification. Tony had more forward-looking ideas, and in 1931, when his father turned over the company’s control to him, he put his ideas to work. He immediately launched a decade-long advertising campaign to transform Clabber Girl Baking Powder from a regional into a national product—a household name. He also sent salesmen as far south as Texas, nailing metal Clabber Girl signs on fences and the exterior walls of countless stores and other buildings. In 1932, as the ad campaign started to heat up, Hulman built a six-story baking powder plant that was still in operation at the end of the century. Despite the Great Depression, the campaign worked and Clabber Girl found a prominent place on grocery shelves across the United States.
Tony Hulman Extends the Family Empire
Tony Hulman, like his grandfather, was both a good businessman and a shrewd investor. During his father’s lifetime, he extended the family empire by purchasing an office building in Evansville, another in Dayton, Ohio, and two gas companies. When his father died in 1942, Tony and his sister, Grace, inherited the family fortune of over $5 million, and through and after World War II, Tony continued to invest in other businesses. Perhaps his most unusual purchase was made in 1945, when, at the urging of triple Indianapolis 500 winner Wilbur Shaw, he bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the “Brickyard,” which was then owned by “Captain Eddie” Rickenbacker, the great World War I fighter ace.
In 1950, Hulman acquired two of its baking powder competitors: the Rumford Chemical Works and the KC Foods Division Plant in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Both were strong sellers in the East, where Clabber Girl sales were comparatively weak. Located in East Providence, Rhode Island, Rumford was originally a chemical manufacturing company started in 1854 by Professor Eben Horsford and George F. Wilson. The founders named their company after Harvard University’s Rumford Chair of the Application of Science to the Useful Arts, which, before his death, had been endowed by Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, a man well-known for his contributions to the culinary and dietary fields. Horsford, who derived Rumford’s all-phosphate baking powder formula, was awarded the Rumford Chair. Rumford Baking Powder would remain an all-phosphate formula, though its manufacture was shifted to the Hulman plant in Terre Haute, as was the manufacture of KC baking powder. In addition to acquiring proprietary rights to Rumford Baking Powder, Hulman got another branded product from Rumford Chemical Works: Hearth Club Baking Powder. A popular regional brand marketed in the southeastern states, Hearth Club used the same formula as Hulman’s Clabber Girl Baking Powder.
Tony Hulman invested extensively in Terre Haute as well. By the mid-1950s, the family had purchased both Terre Haute newspapers, the local television and radio stations, the gas company, and the town’s largest hotel. He also invested in the development of the city’s first shopping center, The Meadows, as well as the Terre Haute House and Corporate Square, an old high school converted into business offices. Some of the properties were owned by Terre Haute Realty Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hulman & Co. In 1954, after Shaw died in an airplane crash, Tony Hulman also took over active management of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
While Hulman & Co. prospered through the next two decades, family investments continued. In 1965, Tony Hulman purchased the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Indianapolis, paying owner James S. Yucker $2 million. He would later buy bottling plants in other Indiana cities, then consolidate the bottling operations in Indianapolis while maintaining warehouses in places where acquired bottling plants had originally been located. The 1960s also brought some retrenchment, though. Hulman & Co. closed its Evansville branch in 1965 and its Mattoon, Illinois branch in 1969. A year earlier, in 1968, it had also closed its spice and coffee mill, an enterprise that Herman Hulman had first got up and going in 1869. A few years earlier, the company had also closed its owned and operated furniture store in downtown Terre Haute.
Meanwhile, under the auspices of the Hulman Foundation, the Hulman family gave much back to the community. Among its many philanthropic gifts were several to what would become the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. In all, they would account for $40 million of that institution’s $110 million endowment. Gifts to Indiana State University followed, as did a donation of land for a public golf course in Terre Haute.
- Francis Hulman and John Bernhard Ludowici establish a wholesale grocery store in Terre Haute, Indiana.
- Herman Hulman dies.
- Anton Hulman, Sr. dies, leaving Hulman & Co. to his son, Anton, Jr.
- Company purchases Rumford Chemical Works.
- Anton Hulman, Jr., dies and control of the Hulman empire passes to his widow, Mary Fendrich Hulman.
- Hulman & Co. shuts down its wholesale grocery division.
- Mary Hulman dies.
New Management Oversees Major Business Changes
After a heart attack claimed the life of Tony Hulman in 1977, his widow, Mary Fendrich Hulman, became the family matriarch and head of Hulman & Co. Operational control of the company would probably have passed to Hulman’s son-in-law, Elmer George, but after George’s wife Mary brought a divorce suit against him, he was killed in a scandalous shootout with his wife’s friend, horse trainer Guy Trolinger.
Much of the day-to-day business of Hulman & Co. was handled by Joe Cloutier, who had been Tony Hulman’s chief assistant. Mary Hulman became the company’s chairwoman. She also became one of the richest women in America, reputed to have been worth $140 million in 1985, when she was named one of the country’s 400 richest people by Forbes. Although Cloutier succeeded Tony as the Speedway’s president, it was Mary Hulman who for the next several years would begin the Indianapolis 500 with the famous words, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”
Mary followed her husband’s basic business strategies, which included a reluctance to dispose of any acquired properties or any other major assets. However, in 1981, the family did sell the Indianapolis bottling company. Also, in exchange for about a 13 percent interest in Indiana Energy, it transferred its ownership of gas companies in Terre Haute and Richmond, Indiana, to that conglomerate. Meanwhile, Hulman acquired other companies, including additional television stations and radio networks in Indiana and Florida. Mary also continued her husband’s philanthropic activities, with a special interest in historic preservation.
In 1989, Joe Cloutier died, and his post as president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway fell to Mary Hulman’s grandson, Tony George, who was not at all sure he wanted the job. Tony loved auto racing as a participant, not as top man in the front office. He also carried with him a tinge of notoriety, having gone through a difficult divorce, but he undertook the job and grew with it.
Important changes of another sort were affecting the business of Hulman & Co. Notably, mom-and-pop, independent grocers were waging the last losing battles in a war with supermarket chains that by 1990 had run most of them out of business. The independents had been the mainstay of the wholesale grocery business, including that of Hulman & Co. The company finally succumbed to market realities in 1995 when it closed its wholesale grocery division and let go of 65 of the company’s 150 workers, the first mass layoff in its history.
Mary Fendrich Hulman died in 1998, and control of the family affairs passed to Tony George and his mother, Mari Hulman George, who replaced her mother as board chairwoman. The new guard was faced with some pressing problems, not the least of which was the underutilization of some of the company’s properties and antiquated equipment, including the machinery in its baking powder plant. Tony George has indicated that somewhere down the line a decision will have to be made about what to do with the plant—as well as what to do with some of the other Hulman holdings, a few of which are located in places that, over time, had become the more decrepit and less desirable areas of Terre Haute. What changes are in the works remain purely speculative, however; Hulman & Co. has not posted any specifics for public inspection.
Terre Haute Realty Corp.
Kraft Foods Inc.; Tone Brothers, Inc.
“Hulman Dynasty: 1850–1997,” http://hulman.tribstar.com/INDEX.HTML.
Johnson, Douglas, “Fast Track,” Indiana Business Magazine, Vol. 36, May 1992, p. 8.
Newcomb, Peter, “High-Octane Octogenarian,” Forbes, Vol. 136, October 28, 1985, p. 340.
—John W. Fiero