News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 29, 2012

Clabber Girl celebrates 120 years

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Hundreds passed through historic halls Friday as Clabber Girl celebrated 120 years on Wabash Avenue.

About 20 participants joined in a free tour of the facility at Ninth Street and Wabash Avenue, one of several offered on the building’s birthday.

Teresa Shaffer, executive director of public relations for Clabber Girl, said attendance had been strong all morning as well, with visitors stopping by for complimentary gifts and specials.

“We’ve had a great turnout since our first tour at 10 a.m.,” she said.

The business of Hulman & Co. began in the late 1840s, but by 1892 the booming operation required more space. On Sept. 28 of that year, the looming industrial building was dedicated amid large crowds, fireworks and 2,000 decorative lights strung throughout town. Eugene V. Debs was among that day’s speakers, and photographs taken from the event depict the streets full of people.

Megan Marvin explained the significance as she guided visitors throughout the building.

“This was an exciting time to have this 7-story building right here in Terre Haute,” she said.

But it came from humble enough beginnings, and she told the story of Francis Hulman, a German immigrant who brought his brothers here from the old country to help with his wholesale grocery business. Together, the family would go on to not only build their business, but the community’s first Catholic church in addition to numerous other charitable enterprises.

Today, many of the Hulman’s original brands still lead sales, including Clabber Girl Baking Powder, and cars still run the tracks of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway they purchased more than a century ago.

Shafer said today’s employees value the company’s heritage, and that much of the building’s first floor is dedicated to its museum.

“If it weren’t for those people, we wouldn’t be here today,” she said.

Meanwhile, Chris Weber worked in back, preparing coffee for today’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which happens to fall on National Coffee Day. As roast master for the Rex Roasting Co., Weber said the company plans to keep the java flowing all day, just as it always has.

“Coffee was one of the most important products of that time,” he said, pointing out Rex Coffee is protected by U.S. Patent Office No. 46619, secured March 7, 1865.

One of the reasons the Hulmans built that building was for use in coffee production, he said, adding they remain one of the few roasters in the area to this day.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.