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