Guest contributor and historian Brendan White shares the story of how milk became big business in Sheridan right after the turn of the century. Brendan is a frequent historical society volunteer who has a true passion for Hamilton County’s past. He is also a contributing writer to Celebrating Hamilton County, Indiana: 200 Years of Change, the official Bicentennial history book available now.
Part 1: The Company’s Beginning, 1901-1905
The Indiana Condensed Milk Company was a significant industrial enterprise in Sheridan in the early 1900s. The industry manufactured condensed milk for different parts of the county, state, nation and even the world.
Stories in The Sheridan News and other newspapers provide evidence of the condensed milk industry’s beginnings during the early 1900s. Before the founding of the better-known Indiana Condensed Milk Company, on March 29, 1901, Frank Van Camp incorporated a condensed milk business named The American Condensed Milk Company, which he planned to operate as part of the Van Camp Canning Company. Courtland Van Camp, George Griffin and John Dettemore helped Frank Van Camp organize the company. Courtland Van Camp operated the Van Camp Hardware Store, while George Griffin was part of Schnull & Company (1).
The men selected Sheridan as the home of the company’s facilities. Operators of the American Condensed Milk Company planned to purchase a location in Sheridan for $600 and construct structures, install machinery, and purchase milk for the industry with a total of $7,000.
People living on nearby farms took an interest in where the condensed milk factory would be located, as many would have been hopeful that their dairy cows could help supply milk. Company representatives announced the proposed location on Monday, March 25, 1901 (2). A Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Sheridan from 1902 shows that the American Condensed Milk Company stood on the south side of the Monon Railroad line by the east side of Park Avenue (3).
The beginning of the factory’s operation occurred in a limited way after the construction of its buildings. In 1901, a strike of machinists in Chicago delayed the installation of machinery in the plant and thus prevented operations from beginning on June 25 of that year as planned (4). Operations began in mid-July, but the company soon encountered water supply issues that prevented it from fully operating. To remedy the issue, a 180-foot-deep well was dug to obtain an adequate supply of water. During that time, area farmers provided approximately 6,000 pounds of milk to the factory every day (5).
The Formation of the Indiana Condensed Milk Company, 1902
In 1902, the condensed milk industry went through a change leading up to the opening of the Indiana Condensed Milk Company in Sheridan. On October 24, 1902, the Sheridan News reported that the Furnas Ice Cream Company of Indianapolis had purchased the American Condensed Milk Company. As a result of the deal, Furnas Ice Cream Company took possession of most of the milk plant and would continue to operate the condensed milk factory (6).
There is some historical record of the founding of the Indiana Condensed Milk Company. A Sheridan News article from 1955 reports that W.N. Wilson bought the small factory building in Sheridan in 1902 (7). A Sheridan News article from 1960, John F. Haines’ History of Hamilton County, Indiana (1915), and a few other sources say that the Indiana Condensed Milk Company was founded by W.N. Wilson around 1900.
A tidbit from The Indianapolis Journal newspaper indicates that the incorporation of the Indiana Condensed Milk Company took place in Indianapolis on October 1, 1902, with William N. Wilson, Amos K. Hollowell and Elmer W. Stout serving as directors of the enterprise.
The company was launched with $15,000 in capital (8). The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Sheridan from 1909 shows that the Indiana Condensed Milk Company expanded east from the former American Condensed Milk Company’s building along the south side of the Monon Railroad line (9). Its address was 805 Park Avenue, located at the northeast corner of Park Avenue and 10th (or 236th) Street on the southeast side of Sheridan.
The Indiana Condensed Milk Company in Sheridan continued to develop after 1902, with changes in ownership and national expansion. That part of the story will be explored in the second part of this condensed (pun intended) series.
The Hamilton County Bicentennial is proudly supported by Duke Energy, Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, Hamilton County Tourism Inc., and Hamilton County Historical Society.
The Sheridan News, (March 29, 1901).
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Sheridan, Hamilton County, Indiana, Sanborn Map Company, Mar., 1902, Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn02499_002/.
The Sheridan News, (June 14, 1901).
The Sheridan News, (July 26, 1901).
The Sheridan News, (October 24, 1902).
The Sheridan News, (March, 1955).
The Indianapolis Journal, (October 2, 1902).
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Sheridan, Hamilton County, Indiana. Sanborn Map Company, Feb, 1909. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn02499_003/.