February 9, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Emmett Culligan

For much of this century the water that flowed through America’s taps was hard - containing calcium and magnesium which formed an insoluble residue that clung to soap and created unsightly spots on clothes and dishes.

Many inventors were experimenting with ways of softening water by removing the minerals. Emmett Culligan wasn’t one of them. In his hometown of Porter, Minnesota Culligan had been tabbed “Gold Dust” for his knack at converting unwanted prairie land into profitable real estate. Before he turned 30, Culligan’s landholdings totaled over $250,000.

A severe downturn in farm prices in 1921 sent Culligan reeling into bankruptcy. He moved his family back to St. Paul. A friend showed him a “conditioning machine” using zeolite, a natural sand, that filtered calcium and magnesium from tap water.

Intrigued with the principal Culligan borrowed a bag of zeolite and began his own tests. By 1924 he was back in business with the Twin City Water Softener Company in St. Paul. His filtering machines sold for the steep price of $200 but sales were brisk. However the Depression forced Culligan out of business once again.

He accepted a position with National Aluminate Corporation in La Grange, Illinois. During this period he conceived the idea of marketing soft water on a service basis through franchised dealers. He immediately started looking for a location for his new business, and found the deserted streets of a vacant subdivision in Northbrook, Illinois. Zeolite required solar drying and the miles of empty streets accommodated this need perfectly.

In 1936 Culligan used the sole $50 in his pocket to establish credit and gradually rebuild his business. He began by buying some discarded hot water tanks from a junkyard, and cut and welded them to form new softeners. Shortly afterward, the first franchise dealership was established and others quickly followed. By the start of World War II, the company had 150 franchised dealers.

The desire for soft water was enough to keep the company growing but with the advent of a clever advertising campaign, people around the world came to know the Culligan name. “Hey Culligan Man” became synonymous with high quality water and water treatment products.

In 1961 the company’s first European distributor was named and the company celebrated its 25th anniversary. For one day all the signs leading into Northbrook read “Culliganville.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Emmett lived in Fort Wayne Indiana. He worked at Wayne Pump. Both of Emmett's brothers were physicians loaned him money in 1936to restart the water softning business.