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The History of Emmett Joseph Culligan in Porter, Minnesota

Did you know that the first Culligan Water softener was built in Porter, Minnesota?

Emmett J. Culligan is the founder and inventor of the Culligan Water Softening Company, now known as Culligan International. Mr. Culligan spent his life during the early 1900's living on his estate on the Northeast side of Porter, during which time the town was experiencing great development. The Culligan Manor stood as a great landmark in Porter, known as one of the grandest homes of its time. Unfortunately Porter lost this landmark during one of the worst blizzards of the horrid winter of 1969, when the house burned to the ground, as firemen could do nothing to get through the monstrous snow drifts to extinguish the inferno.

Porter's Culligan Addition

In September 1917, Emmett J. Culligan subdivided his estate into 13 tracts of land of approximately 40 acres each that created Porter's Culligan Addition which includes the agriculture land north of the railroad which surrounds the west, north and east sides of the other plats within the city of Porter.

Emmett J Culligan

Culligan Addition Plat Map: Part 1    Part 2

Porter Memories: The Culligan Family in Porter.

Early in the 1900's when Porter was establishing itself and prospering quickly a new face arrived in town. A face that belonged to a man, who's name would soon become world renown. Many things have not yet been made clear about Emmett Culligan's life in Porter. History does tell that The Culligan Estate consumed much of the land around Porter and extended for nearly one-half mile. The estate included numerous homes, Culligan Manor being the main house, and two servant houses to the northwest of the mansion. When Culligan left Porter his estate was among the largest in Western Minnesota. The Culligan estate was soon divided and sold. Culligan manor was sold many times and was considered among one of the most luxurious homes in Western Minnesota. Culligan manor was home to the Lakness family when it burned to the ground. The fire department could do nothing more than watch from a couple blocks away as they were unable to break through high snow drifts during a very harsh blizzard in the winter of 1969. By morning, all that remained was the basement and the homes tall chimney. The fire was linked to a faulty electrical wire in the kitchen, the house had never been rewired since it was built, It was one of the first houses to be fully wired and contain switches and fuses. No one was injured in the fire.

Culligan Mansion, Porter, Minnesota. This picture is believed to have been taken before 1915. You may notice that it was in the corner of town, the area is still undeveloped, but two houses have been on the same site since the house burned. The foundation still remains with the sidewalk leading to it. Sidewalk also remains from where the back door used to be leading to the servant houses, (stopped by a crossing town street) which still remain.


The Parlor inside the house. In the back you can see the den. This is the only known picture that remains of the mansion's interior after the fire in 1969. Notice the elegant French furniture, hardwood floors and French rugs. All furniture was deep stained oak or cherry. Memories of those familiar with the home were that if you would go through the doorway in the bottom right corner of the photo you would be in the sitting room, where a stately fireplace and grandfather clock were located and the open staircase of solid deep stained wood and a carpeted runner came down from the second and third floors. Off the right side of the den is  where the dining room was. The dining room was lit by a crystal chandelier and had a table that seated twelve. The room off of the dining room was the kitchen. This is where the back door, which servants used, and the back stairwell was. The back stairwell also lead to second and third floors and the basement.  The light in the parlor is the same type that is thought to have started the fire in the kitchen.

Emmett Culligan started his research on water treatment in his Porter estate and prototyped the first Culligan Water softener in Porter. Many people in town recall their parents telling them about the man who made water good, and then moved on to start a business of it. Many strange filtering machines were found in a large garage by a servant house. The discovery was made in the 1960's when the garage was torn down.


Information on this page was compiled in 1999 through interviews with the current and past citizens of the Porter community including Norma Johnson, Curtis Knutson and Ervin Esping.

"Hey Culligan Man!"

By Florence Anderson, The Canby News - September 6, 2000 - Inside Story Page 3B.

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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