BY MARGO DRUMMOND
During the 1920’s the Horlick Malted Milk plant in Racine employed about 1,000 people. It was customary for William Horlick, known affectionately to his workers as “Mr. Bill,” to make daily visits to the 500,000 square foot facility, at the time one of the largest in America. It was also customary that Horlick workers be served malted milk each morning and afternoon. As the story goes, on one such walk-through, Mr. Horlick approached an employee and inquired of him, “Well Pat, have you had a drink today?” “Oh no, Mr. Horlick,” was the quick reply, “not one drop have I had since last night.” “I meant malted milk,” responded the bemused manufacturer. “Thank you kindly, sir,” offered back his employee adding, “but I will if you haven’t something a wee bit stronger.”
William Horlick was the first businessman in America to offer the five and a half day work week. With Saturday afternoons free, the Horlick employees could often be found playing cricket and later baseball with “Mr. Bill” as part of the team. On each floor of his Racine factory, William Horlick had enormous walk-in safes to store the cash used to pay his workers from getting musty. At the time of his death, Horlick’s personal fortune was estimated to be between $20-$30 million, much of it in cash as well. Of that he left to anyone in his employ for 20 years or more a full year’s salary. Two statements regarding money were attributed to William Horlick. “It’s too bad that people only think about money, too bad,” adding, “It’s not money that’s important, what’s important is saving lives.”
Having experienced the death of several siblings as well as that of his oldest child, William Horlick directed his adult energies to saving the lives of not only infants and invalids who benefited from the Horlick formula, but those disadvantaged children in his local community as well. Children of parents who could not afford to pay a doctor’s fee were nonetheless treated by physicians sworn to secrecy over who had sent them. Oftentimes it was Mr. Horlick himself who sat up nights at the bedside of a sick or dying child. His own sons, A.J. and William, Jr. were cautioned by their father not to speak of these missions.
Nor did Mr. Horlick seek praise for his many contributions to the Racine community. Having given land for both Horlick and Island parks, on Sept. 4, 1935, he dedicated Horlick Field. The five-acre complex which became home to the Racine Belles featured in the movie, “A League Of Their Own,” was to be used for the things he most loved and wanted his fellow citizens to enjoy–athletics, military drills, musical events and amusements. In memory of their daughter, Alice Priscilla, who died at the age of 11, the Horlicks donated a maternity wing to St. Luke’s Hospital. And Wm. Horlick High School, located on land that once comprised part of the five Horlick dairy farms, reflected Mr. Horlick’s passion for education which he believed could further discovery and exploration. Ever excited by the prospect of discoveries brought forth through world exploration, William Horlick would no doubt have loved the fact that his malted milk tablets eventually reached the moon, taken there by astronauts who first set foot on it.
On Sept. 25,1936, William Horlick died. He was 90 years old. It was not surprising that some 3,600 people came to pay their respects, many of them on foot or by bicycle. As word of his death reached beyond Racine, thousands of tributes from all over the world began pouring in. Even the luxury ocean liners that he had loved to travel abroad carried the news in their daily papers. But of all the expressions of condolence and recognition brought forth by his dying, the one that “Mr. Bill” might have most appreciated was one that echoed a long ago boyhood gesture of his own. While still a young man in Ruardean, England, he had carved the initials, W.H., somewhere on the walls of the village granary. Years later, as they gazed out the windows of the Horlick Malted Milk Factory in Racine, workers would make notations in pencil on the building’s wooden pillars–of record snowfalls, the arrival of spring, or the hatching of swans’ eggs on the pond below. A final entry was made on Sept. 25, 1936. It read simply:
“Mr. Horlick died at 9:15 a.m. today.”
Margo Drummond’s interest in history began when she became involved with Preservation Racine. For 31 years, she taught high school courses on Racine History and Death and Dying, Issues of Living and Life. She wrote two books, “Blessings of Being Mortal: How a Mature Understanding of Death Can Free Us to Live Wisely and Well” and “Here’s To Your Health,” the history of brothers William and James Horlick and their company, Horlick’s Malted Milk.