William Horlick was born on February 23, 1846 to James and Priscilla Horlick in the village of Ruardean, Gloucestershire, England. In 1869, William made his first voyage to the United States to visit his distant uncle, Joseph A. Horlick of Racine, Wisconsin. There he met the love of his life, second cousin Arabella Horlick, and eventually married her. On their wedding day, the newlyweds left for England. Two years later the pair returned to Wisconsin, where William joined his father-in-law in business at J.A. Horlick & Sons Lime and Stone Merchants.
In 1875, William convinced his brother James, a chemist at a baby food company in England, to come to Chicago to help with a new product idea. William and James founded the J & W Horlick Company in Chicago. Originally dubbed “Horlick’s Food for Infants and Invalids,” their new product was a special compound made of wheat and malted barley. Consumers added the powder to milk as a nutritional supplement. The Horlick brothers had invented malted milk. Their new business venture would eventually become the Horlick’s Malted Milk Company.
By 1877, the business was doing well enough that the brothers needed to expand production. Looking for a location with abundant land and water resources, they selected Mount Pleasant— right outside of Racine, Wisconsin—as their new base of operations.
William Horlick was becoming an avid entrepreneur. Besides the malted milk company, he would come to own several dairy farms and other businesses including a small dairy shipping company. William was also a major philanthropist. He sponsored several expeditions to both the North and South Poles, often gifting the party with his malted milk product to sustain them and to advertise his product. In fact, Richard Byrd, a famous explorer of both the Arctic and Antarctic, was a close friend of William’s. Horlick funded a few of Byrd’s expeditions. Byrd even named a plane after William on his second expedition to the South Pole. Horlick also funded the exploits of Roland Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer who was the first to fly over the North Pole and the first person to ever reach the South Pole. William’s support for exploration even earned him a knighthood from the King of Norway.
Besides his charity abroad, Horlick was also a major benefactor to his hometown of Racine. William Horlick High School in Racine was constructed thanks to William’s donations. The nearby stadium, Horlick Field, was also a gift from William to the city “for the promotion of athletic events, military drills, amusement, musical events, and events of a similar nature.” Similarly, Island Park—originally called Horlick Park—was another of William’s land gifts to the people of Racine.
In 1936, William Horlick died at the age of ninety. As the father of malted milk, Horlick provided his Wisconsin community with jobs and civic improvements. But his biggest contributions extended far beyond Racine. Horlick helped fund and donate expeditions to the North and South Poles and, most importantly, invented a nutritional supplement still found today in milkshakes, candies, and other snacks.
Written by Samuel G. Brink.
Byrd, Richard E. “Reports on Scientific Results of the United States Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939-1941.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 89, no. 1 (1945): iii-iv.
Horlick’s Corporation (Racine, Wis.). “Horlick’s Corporation Records” (company records/archive boxes, Racine, Wis., 1873-1974) Boxes 1-2.
Stone, Fanny S. Racine, Belle City of the Lakes, and Racine County, Wisconsin : A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement Vol II. Chicago: SJ Clarke, 1916.
No Author. The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1879.
No Author. Who’s Who in the Butter, Cheese and Milk Industries, 79. No. 9, 1935.