John Kaul, the son of a Pennsylvania lumber company owner, invested in timber land in west and south Alabama and built the town of Kaulton around his company's mill near Tuscaloosa. The company extracted turpentine and milled lumber from the state's expansive Longleaf pine forests. Hugh Kaul took over the business with a group of trustees after his father's death in 1931. The new owners dissolved the company's timbering and milling operations and turned instead to trading in real estate and timber rights.
In 1939 Kaul and a group of other executives who met at the Country Club of Birmingham organized the Alabama Metal Lath Company, now AMICO. That same year, Kaul was elected to the Alabama State House of Representatives from Jefferson County. He stepped down to serve as a major in the U.S. Army during World War II, but returned to Montgomery in 1947. As a member of the Big Mule alliance of major landowners and industrialists, Kaul supported the legislature's efforts to keep property taxes low while approving other more regressive forms of taxation to fill desperate revenue needs.
It was Kaul's bill, passed in 1949, that recognized the "Southern pine tree" as Alabama's official state tree. Calhoun County legislator Gerald Willis sponsored an amendment to that legislation in 1997 clarifying that the Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) was intended to represent that state.
In 1953 Kaul sponsored legislation in the Alabama State Senate that would have given Birmingham the option of going to a City Council-City Manager form of government. Then Mayor Jimmy Morgan argued for modification of the law that would allow instead for a Mayor-Council form.
Kaul helped organized the Alabama Forestry Association. He put a large portion of his timber assets into the Hugh Kaul Foundation in 1989. The bulk of his estate also went into the foundation at his death. Since then, Kaul's foundation has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to organizations in Alabama, including the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham Zoo, Southern Research and UAB. The foundation provided $6.5 million for development of the $37 million Hugh Kaul Human Genetics Building at UAB.
Kaul was married to the former Barbara "Bobbie" Orr and had one daughter, Pamela.
Kaul is interred in the Kaul-Greene Mausoleum at Elmwood Cemetery.
- Eskew, Glenn T. (1997) But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807846678