Clapp's Baby Food plant

Greg Lawson | Aug 29, 2012, 12:17 p.m.

Elkhart resident Norma Gene Vreecy has fond memories of the time when Elkhart was home to a long forgotten baby food factory: Clapp’s Baby Food.

Actually, the story of this baby food begins long before it became a part of Elkhart history. Harold Clapp, of Rochester, N.Y., “launched this soon to be $200 million business quite inadvertantly in 1921. Clapp’s wife was ill at the time and it fell to him to prepare a special diet for his young son.”

Clapp developed a formula that consisted of “beef broth, vegetables and cereal.” Their infant son did so well on this “soup” that Clapp started selling it to friends and soon sold it through area drug stores. The Clapps eventually sold the formula to American Home Products Company; the next year unknown at this time.

At the end of World War II, Horace B. Moywer was made resident engineer by AHP and was sent to Elkhart. Moyer was put in charge of building the “Clapp’s Baby Food Plant” at the southeast corner of Simpson Avenue and Superior Street.

Shortly after Clapp’s opened (circa 1946/47), Norma Creecy, and WWII veteran Earl Haithcox, among many others, went to work in the plant. In 1953, AHP sold Clapp’s to Duffy-Mott, well-known for apple products. After moving out of Elkhart, Duffy-Mott increased the Clapp’s food products line from 37 items to 100. That same year, Moyer left what was now AHP-Whitehall Pharmacuticals and went to work for Miles Laboratories as manager of “Food and Pharmaceutical Engineering World-Wide.”

The Clapp’s building was now Whitehall Laboratories.

Part of that history included many beautiful and colorful ads, which promoted Clapp’s Baby Food. The combined talents of Charles and Dorothea Warren Fox created the ads in which appeared illustrations of babies, and the food they would consume. Charles’ background was as an illustrator and commercial artist and Dorothea wrote poetry and drew pictures. Some ads pictured photos of real children and infants.

For Creecy, the most memorable recollections come from first-hand experience while working in Clapp’s, Elkhart processing plant.

Creecy was part of some of the most interesting part of Elkhart’s business history: working in the Clapp’s Baby Food plant in the post WWII years. In her hand-written letters to this writer, she recalled: “I worked in the laboratory for Clapp’s and Whitehall. I started working for Clapp’s in 1947.”

Creecy has special memories of one particular employee: WWII veteran, Earl Haithcox, who died on Dec. 6, 2011. “I believe Earl and I were one of the earliest employees at Clapp’s.” Although Creecy worked in the laboratory, she had to go out into the processing areas to gather samples for testing in the laboratory.

As she recalls: “Clapp’s had a long trough that many women sat along side and cleaned the vegetables. They had huge cookers to cook the meat. I recall two huge pressurized tanks that the cans of baby food were cooked in. One funny incident happened. One time they overcooked the baby custard but when they checked it out, it was better than the usual procedure, so they changed the procedure.”

Some departments experienced unexpected surprises as Creecy recalled: “women workers there stabbed a hole in the cans of out dated baby food. Sometimes the cans, particularly the prunes, would blow their contents out with much pressure. Occasionally, someone would wind up ‘creamed,’ covered with baby food.”

Clapp’s Baby Food and Whitehall Laboratories, perhaps could be viewed as a family of workers rather than simply a place to work. Breaks and lunchtime were periods of relaxation and socialization. “The cafeteria was nice. It had large windows for much natural light. On first morning break, you could go through the line and order toast or an egg sandwich. Also available were juices and hot coffee. At noon, there was a selection of entrees. A very friendly staff worked in the cafeteria.”

When Clapp’s was sold to the Mott’s company, AHP started producing over-the-counter pharmaceuticals through Whitehall Laboratories. Creecy continued working in the testing laboratory. AS she stated in her letters: “Whitehall closed the plant in October 1991,” leaving many longtime employees with only memories of a past and rich part of Elkhart business history.

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