David H. Fulton

Age 82: Owner of plant food manufacturer was a close observer of the Baltimore zoning board.

June 13, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

David Hedleston Fulton, retired president and former owner of Plantabbs Corp., the Hunt Valley manufacturer of tablet plant food, and city zoning board watchdog, died Tuesday of a heart attack at his Tuscany Canterbury home. He was 82.

Mr. Fulton was born in Baltimore and raised on St. Johns Road in Roland Park. His education at Severn School was interrupted during World War II, when he enlisted in the Navy in 1944.

After being discharged from the service, he went to work for his father, David H. Fulton Sr., a Baltimore pharmacist who was a founder of Plantabbs.

His father soon died, and Mr. Fulton, who was studying for a bachelor's degree in business at the Johns Hopkins University, took over the operation of the business while earning his degree in 1950.

The company had its roots in the elder Mr. Fulton, who was an avid gardener and knowledgeable about the advances nitrogen and phosphorus-based fertilizers were bringing to agriculture in the late teens and early 1920s.

After combining a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash, Mr. Fulton created a tablet that could be used to fertilize plants.

In 1921, he and his brother, T.R. Fulton, founded Plantabbs and began producing fertilizer tablets with the same name in a facility in the 1100 block of Maryland Ave.

They were sold in 10- and 25-cent packages nationally through such stores as Woolworth and Kresge.

"He put together a formula and started selling it," the son told The Evening Sun in a 1977 interview. "Flower shows then were big, and he'd hire a girl to hand out samples."

The product's popularity soared after the elder Mr. Fulton purchased a full-page advertisement in Life magazine in 1939.

"People told him he was crazy, but he said it was his money," Mr. Fulton said of his father. "The response was tremendous. It was written up in some advertising textbooks as a phenomenon."

In the early 1960s, the company moved to a larger, more modern plant in Hunt Valley.

By the late 1970s, the company was producing millions of plant tablets that were sold in 30,000 to 40,000 stores throughout the United States, and it eventually became the largest manufacturer of plant food in the world.

"I can tell you it went out of here pretty good during the 1970s and 1980s," Carrie Engel, Valley View Farm's retail greenhouse manager, said yesterday.

In 1988, Mr. Fulton sold the business, which became a division of Tango Industries Inc., and retired.

In 1977, he and his wife, the former Jean Oles Miller, whom he had married in 1966, sold their Roland Park home and purchased the Monkton Hotel, near the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks in Monkton.

"It was a dilapidated 27-room former hotel that had been built in the 1840s. They renovated it and lived in half of the building while renting out the rest to a bike shop and a snack shop," said Janet Singerman, a daughter-in-law, of Charlotte, N.C.

"It became a gathering place for family celebrations and artists," she said.

In 2002, Mr. Fulton and his wife, who survives him, sold the hotel and moved to Baltimore's Tuscany Canterbury neighborhood.

Mr. Fulton had been an active member of Roland Park Roads and Maintenance and Citizens Planning and Housing Association.

After returning to the city, he became interested in the deliberations of the city's zoning board and reported on its activities to Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a close friend and neighbor.

"He was a wonderful man and close friend. He was also a great ally and my zoning board observer. I think since 2004, he only had missed one meeting," Mrs. Clarke said yesterday.

"He always sat in the same chair, in the same row, and on the aisle. I'm hoping that we can perhaps have a small plaque installed where David sat to honor him."

Mrs. Clarke said that he had great respect for the board.

"I think it was mutual," she said.

Mr. Fulton had also been active with the Service Corps of Retired Executives Association.

He was a communicant of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 811 Cathedral St., where a memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. tomorrow.

Also surviving are a son, Richard Harcourt Fulton of Charlotte; a stepson, Donald Cameron Miller of Reisterstown; a stepdaughter, Clarke Miller Fitzmaurice of Baltimore; a sister, Eleanor Fulton Casey of Cockeysville; and seven grandchildren. His wife of 14 years, the former Jean Leverton Noble, died in 1965. Another son, David Douglas Fulton, died in 1991.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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