By Amy Lynch
In Indianapolis, the Hulman name is synonymous with racing. But what you may not know is that the family originally established itself as an economic powerhouse in Terre Haute long before its Indianapolis Motor Speedway era came along.
It all started when brothers Francis and Herman Hulman settled in west-central Indiana after immigrating from Germany in the 1850s, joining forces to open a wholesale grocery and merchandise business. After Francis perished in a ship fire on the way back to America from a trip to his homeland, Herman assumed solo leadership of Hulman & Co. at the tender age of 27. In 1879, the company produced its very first baking powder formula, evolving through several iterations into the Clabber Girl brand in 1923.
Tony Hulman Jr., Herman’s grandson and a beloved philanthropic figure within the Terre Haute community, took the Clabber Girl helm in 1931. He spent the next decade working to make Clabber Girl a household name, sending a sales force across the country and placing Clabber Girl signage on barns and fences along America’s quickly growing highway system.
While Tony was concentrating his efforts on marketing, racing notables Wilbur Shaw and Eddie Rickenbacker encouraged him to purchase the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and use the facility as a venue to promote Clabber Girl. The track had stood idle for several years following World War II and fallen into disrepair. It took some convincing to assure Tony he was making a good investment, and on Nov. 14, 1945, he sealed the deal. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tony’s hard work has certainly paid off many times over. Clabber Girl is now the No. 1 retail baking powder brand in America, sold in every majory grocery store in the U.S. and exported to over 40 countries worldwide. The company also distributes to a variety of wholesale and industrial outlets as well.
Through the years, Clabber Girl has expanded its offerings to include baking soda, cornstarch and within its food service division, the Royal® family of products — cheesecake, gelatins, pie fillings and puddings. If you’ve recently eaten a biscuit, tortilla, donut or cookie at a fast-food operation or grocery store, it’s most likely been made with a Clabber Girl ingredient.
“We’re not just a baking powder company,” said Gary Morris, Clabber Girl President and COO. “We’re a provider of ingredient solutions, and baking powder is just one of the ingredient solutions that we provide.”
Clabber Girl employs approximately 165 workers at its Terre Haute-based facility, and a fifth generation of Hulmans still sits on the privately-owned company’s board of directors. “The Hulman family and Clabber Girl Corporation have been generous community benefactors since 1850,” said David Patterson, Executive Director, of the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Patterson described the Hulmans’ many contributions as significant and impactful to Terre Haute, including support of organizations such as St. Benedict’s Parish, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field, and the Hulman Center multi-purpose arena on the Indiana State University campus. Celebrating Clabber Girl’s proud local heritage, the first floor of the company’s headquarters includes a free- admission museum that opened in 2003, where visitors can explore self-guided exhibits and displays that detail Clabber Girl history and the Hulmans’ involvement in racing.
Additionally, Clabber Girl has branched into the artisan coffee arena with on-site Rex Roasting coffee operations, reviving an effort initiated by Herman Hulman in the 1800s to create a top-quality product that measured up to his exacting standards. Customers can now enjoy the fruits of these labors, along with delectable fresh baked goods, breakfasts and lunches, at the Clabber Girl Bake Shop.
“Food is personal,” Morris said. “A big part of our mission is to share that idea with the public, and we take it very seriously.” Morris says the biggest hurdle the company faces is finding ways to stay relevant in an ever-changing marketplace. “When I joined the company 16 years ago, 90 percent of our business was the retail baking powder,” he said. “However, most people are no longer cooking from scratch and the number of households eating meals at home has declined. Now, less than 20 percent of baking powder in the U.S. is sold to retail avenues, so we’ve expanded our offerings and are moving into making custom blends for the industrial side of the business. Today, we have around 100 different formulas.”
Keeping the company current takes vision and dedication. Morris is up for the challenge. “Our job is to make sure we’re around for another 160 years, and position the company so that it has that opportunity,” he said. As for the Hulman family, now five generations strong, they continue to be the tie that binds these two iconic symbols of Hoosier pride—the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Clabber Girl Corporation—into the next chapter of Indiana history and a family legacy.
To commemorate the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016, Clabber Girl has assembled “Brickyard to Backyard: Remembering Recipes from Race Days Past.” The cookbook is a collection of more than 40 recipes with accompanying photos and race day anecdotes from Indianapolis 500 fans, IndyCar drivers and teams, and employees of Clabber Girl and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The cookbook retails for $25 and is available at the Clabber Girl Bake Shop in Terre Haute and online at clabbergirl.com.