It’s not every day at the Community Foundation when a phone call from an individual requesting information about establishing a scholarship turns into an hour-long fascinating history lesson. Over the summer, the Community Foundation team was privileged to speak with Wabash-born resident Thomas Gamble about the Wabash Baking Powder Company, its history, and the legacy the Company has left for future generations.
The Wabash Baking Powder Company, founded by Charles and John B. Latchem in 1895 on Sinclair Street, produced not only baking powder, but also a variety of flavoring extracts, gelatin extracts, powdered skim milk, and cocoa for over 200 companies. During this time, the Company employed around 40 people and 8 salesmen. Seventeen years later, on December 28, 1912, the Company was purchased by Roy Rowan, Thomas Kelly, and Tom Gamble’s grandfather, Harley Myrl Gamble who would serve as President.
After the sale in 1913 and due to the Company’s growth, the Company moved into a larger warehouse, which had previously been used for the import and export of Canal goods. The warehouse was located at 356-386 S. Wabash Street, south of Canal Street and the railroad tracks, where the Denney Motors lot is located today. Shortly after the move, the building was severely damaged during the great flood of 1913, but thanks to the leadership of Gamble and the hardworking employees, the business quickly rebounded.
During its time, the Wabash Baking Powder Company was a flourishing enterprise, and it became the largest private brand baking powder factory in the world. Adding to the Company’s great products, was its great costumer service. Located right above the factory was a printing department, in which a group of women manufactured custom labels to meet the requests of their many customers. Thomas Gamble, who was a young child at the time, remembers going to the Company after school and sitting at his grandfather’s roll top desk. Near the desk, was an icebox that held desserts and drinks to be tested, in which he was happy to oblige. When the nighttime arrived, Tom recalls watching his father load trucks with products to be shipped across the nation. In fact, more than 15 million pounds of the Company’s products were shipped annually.
In September of 1940, the board of directors composed of Harley Gamble, John Beamer and their wives were faced with the difficult decision to sell the Company. Due to World War II starting in Europe and the associated challenges of obtaining chemicals and supplies for manufacturing products, the Company was sold to Mother Hubbard’s Products in Chicago. Undeterred from the sale of the Company, Harley pursued farming and agriculture and enjoyed his time with his family.
In order to preserve the history of the Wabash Baking Powder Company and the vision and values of his grandfather Harley, Tom Gamble and his family have established the Wabash Baking Powder Company Scholarship Endowment. Tom believes his grandfather would have been proud to know a scholarship was created in the Company’s name, as his grandfather was progressive in his thinking and often worked with youth through the Wabash Kiwanis Club. As such, the scholarship will be awarded to Wabash County students who have been involved in extracurricular and community activities, have financial need, and who intend to pursue a degree in education, engineering, agriculture, business, or manufacturing.
The Gamble family is pleased to work with the Community Foundation of Wabash County in establishing the scholarship to continue the legacy of the Wabash Baking Powder Company and to share its history with generations of students. The Community Foundation likewise is blessed to have learned more about this great Company that helped to shape and support the lives of families one hundred years ago and the lives of students, now and for generations to come.