Welcome to Gadgets and Geeks – a series of stories that highlight inventions from Racine County. Pay close attention, because, in a few weeks the Racine County Eye will be holding a trivia contest with the answers gleaned from these stories.
William and James Horlick didn’t know it at the time, but their 19th-century food science work turned into an invention that is still enjoyed by people around the world – malted milk.
William Horlick (1846-1936) emigrated to the U.S. from England in 1869 and later joined his brother, James, who had previously been a pharmacist in London. The brothers set up shop in Chicago to produce an easily digestible food item concocted from wheat flour and malted barley. It was sold as “J. and W. Horlick’s New Food for Infants, Dyspeptics, and Invalids.”
The Horlicks kept on inventing and creating. Relocating to Racine, William developed a process for making powdered milk in 1876. Then, he hit on the idea that would make the Horlick name internationally famous. In 1887, William Horlick registered the trademark “malted milk” for a new product “composed of nutritive extract of malted grain combined with powdered cow’s milk.”
Malted milk became a huge success. It was sold as a powdered meal replacement drink (mixed with hot milk or water), as tablets and as a powder that mixed deliciously with milk and ice cream at soda fountains everywhere. But it was global explorers who found that the Horlick’s malted milk tablets were a perfect, non-perishable, high-energy food to help them challenge the earth’s harshest environments.
Horlick’s tablets were in the food pouches on Norwegian explorer Raoul Amundsen’s journey to the North Pole. The tablets were also taken on Richard E. Byrd’s first expedition to the South Pole. The explorers were understandably grateful. William Horlick was knighted by King Haakon of Norway for contributing to the success of the Amundsen polar expedition. Byrd, meanwhile, named the Horlick Mountains in Antarctica in William Horlick’s honor.
Horlick’s malted milk products were made a sprawling castle-like factory complex located along Northwestern Avenue The business was sold to British-based Beecham Corp. (now GlaxoSmithKline plc) and the local plant closed in the 1970s. Horlick’s-branded products are still sold throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and Asia.
While malted milk is sold – and enjoyed – to this day, philanthropy is William Horlick’s local legacy. He donated land for William Horlick High School (opened in 1928) as well as the athletic field along North Memorial Drive that bears his name. He also underwrote the early Horlick-Legion and Racine Tornadoes football teams that played there in the early ‘20s.
Racine’s stately Memorial Hall, constructed in 1924-25, was also a gift to the community from William Horlick, a guy who knew his way around food processes.
(Material for this Gadgets and Geeks installment came from “Invention City – The Sesquicentennial History of Racine, Wisconsin” by John Buenker (1998 – Racine Heritage Museum), Racine Heritage Museum and Wikipedia.)