"Hey Culligan Man!"

From the Canby News

September 6, 2000 Inside Story Page 3B.

Article by Florence Anderson

The years between 1920 and 1930 have been called a “Parade of Progress.” During that time, many of the old ways changed dramatically dew to new inventions. Horse drawn buggies gave way to motorized vehicles and the radio was a new fad, which became a popular form of entertainment.

It was about this time that Emmett J. Culligan came to Porter and his invention would bring about another great change. He had been born in a small brick house in Yankton, South Dakota, on March 5, 1893. He grew up in South Dakota and Sioux City, Iowa.

After attending college for two years he worked and sold land in South Dakota. He served briefly in World War I. In the 1920’s he began working for a water-softening firm. After moving to Porter, he worked on his invention and when it was all worked out, he took it to the town blacksmith, Adolph Westby.

Westby welded all the pieces together and the result was the first Culligan Water Softener. Culligan asked him to go into a partnership with him on this invention but Westby declined, thus losing the opportunity of a lifetime!

From 1924 to 1928 he operated his own water-softening business. In the middle of the depression he conceived of marketing soft water on a service basis through franchised dealers. He started his new business in Northbrook, Illinois using $50 to establish credit. He gave soft water service instead of selling water softeners to homeowners.

“Hey Culligan Man!” became a well-known phrase and his water softeners were used in many of the homes in this area.

The house Culligan lived in while in Porter was built by Ole Olson. When Culligan left, he sold it to William Rogers. Herman Thompson was the next owner who lived there for some years and then it was sold to Orris Lakness, manager of the elevator.

In addition to the house, the Culligan Estate included a farm on the north edge of Porter where his hired man lived. Culligan owned a lot of land and hired extra workers during harvest and other busy seasons. Information is sketchy about those early days but Palmer Evjen remembers that his grandfather was one of those workers.

The big square house stood in the middle of a block (on what is now North Sunrise) with a large orchard along the north side. The house lived up to its name “Culligan Manor” with its beautiful woodwork and furniture. The house burned on a blizzardy winter night in 1969. The fire burned quickly and in the morning only the tall chimney was left standing to mark the spot where the house had been.

By the start of World War II, the Culligan Zeolite Company had 150 dealers (zeolite is a natural greensand used to remove hard minerals from water). In 1952, the company changed its name to Culligan Inc., and in 1970, it became the Culligan International Company.

The Culligan name has become internationally famous. Today there are more than 1,000 franchised dealers in the United States and 85 more licensees throughout the world. The business grosses more than $150 million annually and provides employment for more than 20,000 families.

Culligan announced his retirement in 1965. He retired to San Bernardino, California, and died in 1970.


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