BY JIM MERCIER
I know what you must be thinking… “the only malted milk company that was in Racine was Horlicks, right?” After all, the world’s first malted milk was invented right here in Racine, way back in 1883 by Horlick’s. It was Horlick’s that helped make Racine a household word by distributing their malted milk throughout the entire world. It was Horlick’s that had a factory that spanned many acres in size. So, who would want to compete with that?
Well, other companies eventually began to compete with the Horlick’s Malted Milk Co., including Carnation, Kraft, even Coors brewery! But these were nationwide firms, after all. Would it surprise you to learn that another Racine company once entered the ring, and competed directly with Horlick’s? An even bigger surprise would be to learn that it was another Horlick that actually started this company. Interested? Well then, let’s read all about the White Cross Food Co., and how they dared to compete with the giant in the industry!
As mentioned, it was another Horlick that started this short-lived competitor to Horlick’s malted milk. That relative was one, Arnold Horlick, whose grandfather, Joseph Horlick, came to Racine way back in 1844. Joseph started the Horlick Lime & Stone Co. near the Rapids, and owned about 515 acres of land, of which, about 100 acres were devoted to quarry operations (including our Quarry Lake Park). It was Joseph who convinced his nephew, a young William Horlick, to visit him in Racine. William Horlick (and his brother James) would go on to establish the Horlick Malted Milk Co. in Chicago in 1873, eventually moving operations to Racine a few years later.
What would have motivated Arnold Horlick to start up another malted milk company here in Racine is unknown, but he did just that in 1924. Originally known as the Horlick Malted Food Company, Arnold soon renamed his young enterprise the “White Cross Food Co.” (possibly to distance his firm from the well-established and well-known, Horlick’s Malted Milk Co.). The plant was located at the southwest corner of 15th and Clark streets.
So how could this fledgling company even begin to compete with Horlick’s? One method was by taste comparison. A 1924 ad states that “People of discrimination prefer the White Cross ‘AA’ grade flavor that comes from purest materials, carefully prepared according to the latest and most scientific methods. No bitter ‘after taste’. It establishes a new and higher Hospital standard of quality.”
Another promotional gimmick was price comparison. The same ad mentions that “White Cross has cut needless cost of distribution – it has removed the primary cause of former high prices on malted milk. That is the reason that you, Mr. Consumer, get a better malted milk at 27% savings.” The company was referring to their 5-lb. tin, which was priced at only $2.75…a savings of 27 percent over their competition (I’m assuming against Horlick’s).
Health benefits were also mentioned on their 25 lb. container: “White Cross Malted Milk is a most desirable diet for infants, nursing mothers, convalescents, and all those suffering from diseases, especially in typhoid and other fever cases. Served liberally sprinkled over ice cream, it is cooling, nourishing and sustaining. Taken hot before retiring, it is refreshing and induces sound sleep for those fatigued or over-worked.” And I always thought drinking malts was only for pleasure!
All that being said, it was not enough to keep the company in operation. By 1926, and about two years after starting up, White Cross went out of business. It’s interesting to note that they had ads in the 1924,1925 and the 1926 KIPIKAWI, the yearbook from the old Racine High School. By the time the 1926 yearbook came out, however, the company was on its way out as well.
One can only imagine during the 1924-26 Horlick family gatherings, the conversations between Arnold and his other Horlick relatives. William may have said something about Horlick’s being the original malted milk, and the largest, while Arnold may have countered by bragging that White Cross tastes better, and is cheaper (remember the old Miller Lite commercials?).
Local historian Jim Mercier is an avid collector of Racine historical memorabilia, some of which is in the Racine Business Center’s Spirit of Racine Entrepreneurs exhibit. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org