Culligan was founded by Emmett Culligan in a blacksmith shop in Northbrook, Illinois. He perforated the bottom of a coffee can and used greensand to make his own water filter. Upon running water through his device, he discovered that the filter also behaved as a water softener. By 1938, the first Culligan franchised dealership opened in Wheaton, Illinois, followed by another in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Culligan is best known for a famous television and radio ad featuring an all-American housewife yelling out the slogan “Hey, Culligan man!” in a sultry tone. The campaign was originally created in 1959 for radio by Dallas Williams Productions of Los Angeles. Filmmaker Dan Bessie directed and animated the award-winning "Hey Culligan Man!" soft water commercials for 15 years. Variations of “Hey Culligan Man” ads would continue to air for over three decades.
In 2004, Entrepreneur Magazine named Culligan the number one franchise in its industry. The company currently has over 800 dealers in the United States and Canada and sells its products in more than 90 countries. Culligan is privately held by the investment firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice.