University of Wisconsin–Madison

Horlick’s Malted Milk Company

Official letterhead of what was then known as the Horlick’s Food Company, 1895.

Founded in 1873, under the name “J & W Horlick Company,” the Horlick’s Malted Milk Company was the creation of brothers William and James Horlick. The company specialized in producing malted milk as a nutritional supplement in a variety of forms. From simple powdered malted milk, to special tablets called “diastoids” (after the diastatic enzymes that break starches down into sugar).

A pair of Horlick’s advertisements from the United States (left, 1904) and the United Kingdom (right, 1915). Note the two different products being advertised: malted milk powder and malted milk tablets.
A pair of Horlick’s advertisements from the United States (left, 1904) and the United Kingdom (right, 1915). Note the two different products being advertised: malted milk powder and malted milk tablets.

The company was originally incorporated in 1873, in the city of Chicago, Illinois. James, William, and their wives Margaret and Arabella, were the original stockholders for the fledgling company. James then became company president and William took on the role of treasurer and vice-president. James would later return to their home country of England to establish a branch there, while William would stay behind to manage the original company after it moved outside Racine, Wisconsin, in 1875. The company eventually became a leader in Racine’s food industry.

The Horlick’s Malted Milk Company plant, just outside Racine Wisconsin, c. 1900. Note the pond at far right—an important source of water for the factory.
The Horlick’s Malted Milk Company plant, just outside Racine Wisconsin, c. 1900. Note the pond at far right—an important source of water for the factory.

The Horlick’s Malted Milk Company had an enormous impact on the region around Racine and beyond. For example, the milk used in production needed to be of high quality so that the end product would be safe for consumers. At this time, milk standards were loose and milk-borne illnesses were common. In response, Horlick’s established quality standards for milk, and also designed special steel containers to preserve their product. Other cities and companies across the country soon started using Horlick’s milk standards as their own. Horlick’s also used so much milk that local dairy farmers needed to expand their herds in order to keep up with demand.

The bottling line at the Horlick’s plant. Date unknown. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 23702
The bottling line at the Horlick’s plant. Date unknown. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 23702
Horlick’s tablets produced at the company’s UK plant in Slough, c. 1940.
Horlick’s tablets produced at the company’s UK plant in Slough, c. 1940.

Meanwhile, barley was sourced from farms in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin, and then turned into malt at nearby malting companies. Horlick’s wheat came from across the region, but was usually processed in Minnesota. After developing their chocolate recipe, Horlick’s even began to import cacao from the tropics.

While Horlick’s was growing its Midwestern operations, William’s brother James had returned to England in 1890 to establish a factory in Slough, just west of London. This new Horlick’s branch served not just the English market, but also the entirety of the British Empire. Horlick’s malted milk products were now being carried in most corners of the world, from Ireland, Italy, and the Hawaiian Islands, to India, Southeast Asia, and even the Belgian Congo.

Horlick’s Malted Milk tablets were even brought along on several dangerous expeditions, including Richard Byrd’s second expedition to the South Pole, and his ascent up the second highest mountain in the Himalayas. Perhaps most famously, all those who served at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 were given a free bottle of the tablets.

Crates of Horlick’s Malted Milk bound for Antarctica to supply Richard E. Boyd’s second expedition there. Photograph by Benjamin Morse, 1933. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 23703.
Crates of Horlick’s Malted Milk bound for Antarctica to supply Richard E. Boyd’s second expedition there. Photograph by Benjamin Morse, 1933. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 23703.

In 1975, after nearly 90 years of operation in Racine, the Horlick’s plant was shut down by parent company GlaxoSmithKline. If you travel abroad to the United Kingdom and many of its former colonies, you may still find Horlick’s products on the shelves, often in powdered form and used as a sleep aid.

 


Related Stories

William Horlick, the father of malted milk, in Racine, Wisconsin, c. 1910. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 23698
The Father of Malted Milk

 


Related Objects

Early Horlick’s Malted Milk containers, c. 1900.
Horlick’s Malted Milk

 


About the Author

Samuel G. Brinks

 


Bibliography

Sankey, Alice. Industries of Racine. Racine, WI: Racine Board of Education, 1956.

Buenker, John D. The History of Wisconsin: Volume IV: The Progressive Era 1893 – 1914. Madison, WI: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1998.

Horlick’s Corporation (Racine, Wis.). “Horlick’s Corporation Records” (company records/archive boxes, Racine, Wis., 1873-1974) Boxes 1-2.

Hutchison, Robert. “Horlick’s Malted Milk”. The Lancet vol. 1, no. 4154, (1903): 1060.

Raney,William Francis. Wisconsin A Story of Progress. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1940.