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Early History of Kelvinator and the Subsidaries

American Motors Cars



                            AMC/KELVINATOR HISTORY
                           PIONEER IN BETTER LIVING
More than a century ago, in the mid-1850's, an English scientist delved deeply
into the principles of heat and cold and unwittingly laid the foundation for a dozen or more
industries.  He was William Thompson, Knighted Lord Kelvin for his noteworthy scientific
Yet it took a civil war and an ice famine before Lord Kelvin's findings were interpreted
mechanically and seriously applied in the service of mankind.  In the mid-1860's a small steamer
ran a Northern blockade to deliver a commercial ice-making machine to the Port of New Orleans,
for three years deprived by war of natural ice.  The North remained unimpressed until 1890, when
after an unprecedented warm winter, the crowded cities, facing a serious ice shortage, panicked
and rushed into the construction of commercial ice plants.
It was not until 1914, however, that anyone tried to adapt the principles on commercial ice-making
to a smaller machine for refrigerating foods in the home.  In the summer of that year, Edmund J. Copeland
brought Nathanel B. Wales, an engineer obsessed with tremendous potentials in mechanized home refrigeration
to see Arnold H. Goss, a prominent Detroit industrialist.  And Goss was interested enough in the idea to
finance initial experiments.
Wales built his first refrigerating mechanism for home installation during the fall and winter of 1914,
in Detroit.  After producing a series of experimental models, Goss and Copeland incorporated under the name
Electro-Automatic Refrigerating Company, Inc. in May 1916, with Wales as chief engineer.  Two months later,
in tribute to the British scientist who had pioneered in the principles of refrigeration, the firms's name
was changed to the Kelvinator Company.
That year, Kelvinator refregerating units were installed in many of the finest homes of the Detroit area.
They were of the "remote" type, with the cooling unit installed in the purchaser's ice-box, and with motor,
compressor and condensing unit at the side of the cabinet or in the basement.  Ice-refrigerators had long
been universal household aids, due largely to the enterprise and pioneering efforts of Charles H. Leonard,
ice-box manufacturer of Grand Rapids.  The Kelvinator people found that they were installing their units in
more Leonard boxes than in any other kind, and developed a close working relationship.
Because of the millions of usable ice refrigerators in service and available for mechanical conversion,
it was not until 1925 that Kelvinator brought out the industry's first self-contained unit, with the cooling
system, compressor and condenser installed in one cabinet.  The public's favorable response to this "unitized"
refrigerator prompted Kelvinator to purchase the Leonard Company.  As a division of Kelvinator, Leonard
facilities were turned to the production of cabinets for Kelvinator refigerators and for a companion line
marketed under the time-honored trade name, Leonard.
In 1926, Kelvinator broadened it product line by acquiring the Nizer Corporation, the the largest builder of
ice-cream cabinets.  Kelvinator maintained industry leadership in that field, and contributed substantially to
elevating ice cream from a delicatessen and drug store specialy to a food staple now a part of every family diet.
In 1926, Kelvinator also created a subsidiary, Refrigeration Discount Corporation, to finance Kelvinator and
Leonard purchases by appliance dealers and their customers.  This move was shortly followed by organizing a
subsidiary in Canada, Kelvinator of Canada, Limited, to assemble and distribute applances in that country. Both
moves expanded the company's markets.
In 1928, 37-year-old George W. Mason, who already had an impressive managerial record with Chrysler and Copeland
Products, came over to Kelvinator as president.  Under Mason's guidance, the company's sales grew steadily, as its
products improved and its lines broadened.  Mason expanded its scope still further in 1935, when he induced Kelvinator
directors to acquire stock in Ranco, Inc., from which they were buying thermostatic controls.
In 1937, the Kelvinator Company merged with Nash Motors, forming Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, with Mason as
president of the dual operation.
As a division of Nash-Kelvinator, Kelvinator continued to grow, expanding into making condensers and compressors
for manufacturers of other makes of refigerators, freezers, and air conditioning units.  In the commerical field,
line after line was added---water coolers, beverage dispensers, frozen food display cabinets, air conditioning
and dehumidifying units.  Step by step, the company's household refrigeraor line was supplemented by electric ranges,
water heaters, home freezers, room air conditioners, kitchen cabinets, sinks, kitchen waste disposers, and in 1952
a complete line of home laundry equipment acquired through the purchase of Altorfer Bros. Company (ABC), of Peria,
Like Nash and Hudson, Kelvinator history is replete with enduring contributions to product design.  In the realm of
refrigeration alone, Kelvinator engineers -- apart from their initial pioneering role -- were responsible for a score
of major advancements such as self-contained reftigerators, automatic thermostatic controls, enclosed high-humidity
compartments, across-the-top frezer chests, cold-to-the-floor cabinets, and automatic defrosting without electric heating
Carved into the stone facade at the entrance of the company's handsome headquarters building on Detroit's Plymouth
Road is a quotation from Lord Kelvin which tells the Kelvinator story in a few words:  "I've found a better way."
The year was 1881.  The place: the Leonard home in Grand Rapids.  The circumstance:  a pail of hot lard cooling, precariously
atop a cake of ice in an ice box.  The penalty:  melted ice, a spilled pail and an unpleasant, difficult cleaning job.
The result:  the famous Leonard "Cleanable" Refrigerator with removable liners and flues that readily could be taken out
and cleaned.
With that invention of young Charles H. Leonard was born not only improved sanitation in foodkeeping, but also an enterprise
that was to grow rapidly into the country's foremost manufacturer of ice-refigerators.
Athough the Leonard's early popularity stemmed largely from its easy and unrivalled cleanability, its user appeal was further
enhanced by the introduction of removable all-metal ice racks and greatly improved door locks, in 1885; woven wire shelves
in 1889; front-opening ice chamber in 1893; porcelain-lined interiors in 1907.
The Leonard, too, was a recognized style-setter, and the company's huge carved-oak, highly varnished, brass-bound and mirrored
creations of the Gay Nineties were a sight to behold.
In 1918, Leonard produced the first cabinets specifically designed for electrical refrigeration, but continued to manufacture
ice-refrigerators, in which the company had, for years, been the world's largest.  By 1925, Leonard was turning out about
one of every five ice-refrigerators built in the U.S. -- 1,000 daily.  In 1926, the company merged with the Kelvinator Corporation.
Just a half century since the Leonard ice box became an American household friend, it was discontinued, to be replaced by
the electric refrigerator.  The Leonard line of major kitchen appliances became a companion to the Kelvinator line, sold through
exclusive Leonard dealers in the U.S., overseas, and with the company's Canadian and English appliance subsidiaries.
In 1909, two ambitious youg brothers, A.W. and Silas Altorfer, of Roanoke, Illinois, got an idea that was to lead to the
freeing of American women from the drudgery of washday.
Dismayed by the sight of their young sisters toiling over huge heaps of clothing for the large Altorfer family, the boys
built a crude, but practical, power washing-machine---the first in America.  It consisted of a wooded tub mounted on a bench
made of lumber salvaged from packing boxes.  It used a four fingered wood "dolly" on the underside of the lid to produce
washing action. For power it was connected by belt to a gasoline engine.
The thoughtful boys took the weird-looking contraption home, hooked it up, gave it a whirl-- and it worked!  The sisters
were delighted, but you could hear the groans of washboard manufacturers echoing from the Alleghenies to the Rockies.
As the news of the Altorfer machine spread, wash-weary wives and mothers started clamoring for one like it.  The Altorfer
brothers bought as old abandoned school house, hired a few men, and started building washing machines, forsaking their father's
prosperous hardware business.
Since only farms had gasoline engines at the time, power washers were literally farm implements, so the Altorfers sent salemen
out over the country-side in horsed-drawn spring wagons, with washers and gasoline engines mounted in the beds.  The salesmen
put on demonstrations for farm housewives in the shade of the big trees.  And the washers sold--in hot-cake fashion!
Sensing success, the inventors formed the Altorfer Brothers Company, and went into production in a big way.  Within two years,
annual sales were in the thousands.  Meantime, other manufacturers had entered the field, and ABC became the envy of the still
youthful industry by shipping the first solid carload of power washers ever to move over the rails.  Business virtually doubled
each year after that, until the old school house became to cramped for efficient operations.
The company built a much bigger factory in Peria, closer to better transportation.  ABC continued to improve its products and
manufacturing methods with new processes , and many innovations.  It added electrically-driven washers: progressed from the "dolly
type" washers to the cylinder, the oscillator, the vacuum cup, and the reversing agitator types.
Among other progressive steps of this period, the company replaced the wooded tubs with nickel-plated copper units of fully-
enclosed design, featuring cylinder washing.  Metal tubs boosted sales tremendously.  Meanwhile, ABC began experimenting with
porcelain enamel.
In 1926 ABC erected the first porcelain plant in the industry, and introduced the first full line of porcelain tub washers.
Other companies hastily followed suit, and porcelain enamel became universally used.  For the nest 25 years ABC kept improving its
lines while developing cost-and time-saving methods, and expanding its market until it reached around the globe.
But there still was another challenge to be met, a new field to be explored.
Despite the industry's huge volume, laundry equipment manufacturers were determined to make washday blues even more a song of good
cheer, so the raced towards the goal of fully automatic washers and dryers.  Along the way, ABC created a revolutionary principle -- a
non-reversing, eccentric agitator, patented as "Centric Agitation".  This washing principle was incorporated in an ABC created "Automatic",
which firmly entrenched the company as a major factor in this new field.
In 1952, the company was purchased by Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, which saw in the billion-dollar washer, dryer, ironer market a natural
expansion area.  The acquisition gave Kelvinator a new, profitable and fast-growing addition to its household appliances, at the same time
yielded an attractive benefit for ABC -- the greatly increased volume resulting from the combined sales of its own dealers and those
of  Kelvinator dealers.
                                     MOVING AHEAD IN THE APPLIANCE FIELD 
The strong position of American Motors' Appliance Division (Kelvinator, Leonard, and ABC) in the growing multi-billion dollar industry
is a corporation asset of the most commanding proportions.  The long established background of each unit of this division in the service of
the American family, and the rapidly growing prestige of the division's foreign subidiaries, afford a natural foundation for continuing
Kelvinator is already fourth largest United States manufacturer of major household appliances, second largest - and rapidly approaching
first position - in Canada; second in the overseas market, and third in England.  In certain areas, it is the established leader.
From a profit standpoint, the appliance division has an impressive history.  Since 1926, Kelvinator, either as an independent company or a
division of Nash-Kelvinator, has shown progressively increasing and sizable profits for all but two years - an enviable record.  With this
demonstrated ability to produce sound earnings, the appliance operation is quite obviously a pillar of commanding strength in the total American
Motors business structure.
The peculiarly American idea of "push-button" performance of household tasks pervades every phase of domestic life.  To preserve, prepare and
cook foods to the modern taste, and to dispose of food waste the modern way, calls for modern equipment; to launder the family's clothes with ease
and dispatch calls for modern equipment; to rob the stifling heat and humidity of summer of their horror call for the modern help of air conditioning.
Collectively, these appurtenances of today's good life represent a monumental product volume ... and the market expands as the habit of usage grows.
This is the realm of Kelvinator ... with an opportunity that is being further enriched by the tremendous hegira of urban dwellers to suburban and rural
areas and its effect on private home construction, which is proceeding at a pace of well over a million units a year.
The steady increase in population, too, the record birth rate, the creation of many new family units, and the expanding electrification of rural homes,
all give impetus to the forward march of the major appliance business.
In forty years Kelvinator, "The First Name In Electric Refrigerator For The Home," has built up an unsurpassed reputation for high quality and excellent
performance.  Constant research to improve the end product has resulted in an impressive list of "firsts" through the years.  Significantly, by an overwhelming
proportion, the major advancements permanently affecting refrigerator design have come from Kelvinator.  The latest of these was the Foodarama, a two-door
vertical home freezer and high humidity refrigerator combined in one cabinet.  The Foodarama has been hailed as the greatest forward step in food-keeping in
the past quarter century.
This advanced concept is apparent in other American Motors appliances as well.  The company, for example, made such major contributions to electric range
design as the high range backguard, sloping switch panel, and the all-welded one-piece range body.  In 1954 Kelvinator and Leonard ranges again moved ahead of
the industry with such new and exclusinve features as removable and disposable oven-linings, which practically ended the difficult job of oven cleaning.
Kelvinator and Leonard also are out front in relation to the growing use of color in the kitchen, making both their refrigerators, ranges and laundr equipment
available in eight different pastel tints as well as conventional white.
One of the company's most important recent moves, the acquisition in 1952 of Altorfer Bros. Company (ABC), pioneers in the manufacturing of power washers, has
to make its full impact.  Since its alignment with Kelvinator, ABC has been manufacturing a complete line of washers, dryers and ironers under it own label as
well as Kelvinator's.  As a result of the increased volume, Kelvinator has become a leading factor in the laundry equipment field.  The sensational rise in
household laundry equipment sales is, in fact, one of the brightest spots in the appliance picture.
American Motors is in an unusually favorable position to capture an attractive share of this lucrative market because of the company's prominence in the field and
because of the high standard of its products in modern design and engineering.  The corporation's automatic washers, for example, feature two separate and distinct
washing cycles:  one for regular fabrics and full loads; another for fine fabrics and light loads.  This exclusive feature, with its resultant operating economy and
time-saving benefits, has been a great factor in increasing demand.
In its other household appliances, American Motors is in an equally advantageous position.  The company is one of the leading and firmly entrenched members of the
home freezer industry, is steadily advancing its sale of room air conditioners and is marketing a distinctive and exclusive line of kitchen cabinets and cabinet sinks.
Other domestic products, which collectively represent a substantial volume opportunity for the corporation, are water heaters, garbage disposers and dehumidifiers.
Kelvinator's commercial department is a major factor in the profits of the appliance operation.  In recent, years, the company has greatly stepped up the manufacture
of such products as beverage and water coolers, commercial frozen food cabinets, restaurant freezers, refrigerating equipment for hospitals, ice cream cabinets and
scores of other specialized items.
After the formation of American Motors Corporation, the six subsidiaries of Nash-Kelvinator Corportation and one of Hudson Motor Car Co. were consolidated into one
group called Export and Subsidiaries Division.
               The group consists of:
                       Nash Motors of Canada, Limited.......................100%   owned
                      Hudson Motors of Canada, Limited.....................100%   owned
                        Nash-Kelvinator, Limited, England....................100%   owned
                        Kelvinator of Canada, Limited........................55.81% owned
                       Ranco, Incorporated..................................61.7%  owned
                        Ranco, Limited, Scotland (100% owned by above)
                        Refrigeration Discount Corp. (ReDisCo)...............100%   owned
                        ReDisCo of Canada, Limited(100% owned by above)
While each subsidiary is completely autonomous, operations are co-ordinated with the export activitives of the Automotive and Appliance Divisions of American
Motors Corporation and centrally supervised.
Nash cars were introduced to Canada in 1920, only two years after the first Nash, Model 681, made its bow in the United States.  Up until World War II, Nash car
bodies and parts were manufactured in the company's Wisconsin plants and shipped to the Canadian plant for assembly, painting and trim.
In 1946, Nash-Kelvinator Corportion purchased a plant in Toronto to build Nash cars in Canada, but as result of the "austerity program" in that country, actual
production was not begun until 1949.
The steady population increase and economic upsurge that Canada is currently experiencing is expected to result in a steadily increasing demand for Canadian-
made automobiles.  As the Nash name becomes more widely known and respected, and advertising and promotion for the Nash line of automobles is increased, it follows
that many more Nash automobiles will find buyers in Canada.
The Ramblers and Metropolitan, in particular, qualify to capture a growing market in Canada, where there still is a great demand for lightweight, compact,
economically-operated vehicles.
Kelvinator of Canada Limited, American Motors' oldest subsidiary, commands a relatively more important position in the appliance field in Canada than does the
parent company in the United States.
Already second in the Canadian major appliance field, Kelvinator of Canada is expected to soon occupy the No. 1 position as the result of a recent contract with
Simpsons-Sears, national department store chain.  Under this contract, Kelvinator will manufacture "Coldspot" electric refrigerators, "Kenmore" electric ranges and
a number of other household appliances, while Simpsons-Sears will sell Kelvinator appliances, except washing machines, throughtout its stores.  As part of the
transaction, the "important" chain outfit purchased 20% of the stock of Kelvinator of Canada, Limited, with American Motors still retaining 55.81% of the outstanding
Product-wise, Kelvinator of Canada is highly diversified.  Besides building American Motors and Simpsons-Sears lines, it holds an important arrangement for exclusive
manufacturing and selling rights with  Vendo Company, makers of Coca-Cola dispensers; and the Fillery vacuum cleaner and floor polishers.
The Canadian Company is a complex business in itself.  It has four thriving subsidiaries:  Pioneer Appliance Service, Ltd., which provides factory service from coast
to coast for Kelvinator and Leonard. as well as competitors' appliances; Kelcan Trading Corporation, a Michigan organization which purchases parts and supplies in the
U.S. for use by the Canadian company; Refrigeration Supplies Company, which sells condensers and compressors to producers of refrigeration, air conditioning and other
types of equipment; and Northern Electric Company, one of Canada's largest national distributors of Leonard and other lines of appliances.
On the international front, Kelvinator of Canada possesses a distinct advantage because it operates in country where Sterling is in free exchange.  In a unique
demonstration of "hands across the sea", the company purchases a large quantity of precision parts for its refrigeration units from Nash-Kelvinator Limited, England, and
temperature controls from Ranco of Scotland, both American Motors subsidiaries.  The Company uses the bulk of Ranco controls purchased for it own units, but also sells
many to other manufacturers.
This represents a truly remarkable growth for a company which, just a decade previously, began business with only twelve salesmen as the Canadian agency for Kelvinator
products.  In the first year of business, the company sold only twenty-eight refrigerators.  Today Kelvinator of Canada has more than 1,000 employees, get more than 15% of
Canada's refrigerator business.  The company also has 365,000 square feet of factory space in London, Ontario, double what it was in 1947 when a new plant was built to
handle burgeoning business.
Nash-Kelvinator Limited, England, a totally owned subsidiary of American Motors Corporation, ranks as the second largest appliance manufacturer in the overseas market.
The company was founded in 1926 as an assembly plant for refrigerator stampings, forgings and machine parts made by Kelvinator in America.  In 1946, Nash-Kelvinator
Corporation established a 230,000 square foot plant in Crewe, in Cheshire, England, to begin its first complete manufacturing venture outside of North American.  The Crewe
works produce Kelvinator and Leonard household refrigerators, ice cream cabinets, sealed and open condensing units, compressors, beverage coolers, and commercial cooling
Four-fifths of Crewe production is sold in seventy countries outside of England, in and out of the Sterling area.  This list, however, excepts Australia, where Kelvinator
appliances are manufactured by big, locally-owned Kelvinator of Ausatralia, on a license basis.
Four decades ago, a mid-western university student working in a coal mine powerplant to earn tuition for the next semester saw the trend toward the use of converter
stations in place of the usual steam generating plants at coal mines.  The only thing lacking to make these stations automatic was a circuit breaker which would "open"  in
case of trolley trouble and "close" again when troubles were cleared.
Being an opportunistic student, E.C. Raney worked on the idea and showed it to his electrical engineering professor, who encouraged him in his efforts.  As a result,
working in the university laboratory, Raney designed and built the first successful automatic reclosing circuit breaker.  The professor was so impressed with the results
that he and few of Raney's friends who had been in touch with this development, and who were aware of the need of such a device, joined in financing young Raney's producion
of these units.  Thus was formed the Automatic Reclosing Circuit Breaker Company.
In 1928, another opportunity presented itself for supplying a much needed control for electrical refrigerators in a simple and inexpensive form for this expanding  industry.
George W. Mason, then president of Kelvinator Corporation, launched Raney in this business by giving the first quantity production order for these controls.
In 1935, Kelvinator purchased controlling stock interest in the company renamed Ranco, Inc.  Again opportunity knocked at the door, calling for a new control for the fresh-
air automobile heater which Mason introduced on the Nash car.  Ranco developed the first automatic car heater control and for a period of years was the only producer for all
car manufacturers.
All told, Ranco has sold more than 75 million units in the U.S.A. alone, many thousands more from its subsidiary in Scotland, formed in 1950.
Ranco's standing in the appliance field is equally remarkable.  It sells more than 400 different types of controls to more than 100 manufacturers of household refrigerators,
freezer cabinets, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, vending machines, water coolers, ice cream cabinets, clothes dryers and defrosting units. Commercial-type controls, in more
than 200 designs are sold to more than 150 makers of refrigeration, air conditioning and heating equipment.  In the United States alone, Ranco sells between 60 and 70 per cent
of all temperature controls in the domestic and commercial refrigeration industries.
Ranco's subsidiary in Glasgow, employing more than 500 people, supplies controls to the export markets of the world and to Kelvinator and many other manufacturers in the
British Isles.
If any single outside factor were to be cited as having made the greatest contribution to the growth of the automobile and household appliance industries, it would have to
be the financing services of such companies as Refrigeration Discount Corporation (ReDisCo).
Kelvinator in the late twenties had the foresight to organize ReDisCo, its own finace Company, for the prime purpose of assisting dealers by financing their displays and small
inventories for refrigerators.  This made it possible for many more dealers to get a start in the infant electric refrigeration field.  Gradually, ReDisCo expanded its service
beyond dealer financing to include the dealer's customers who were unable either pay cash or find other means of financing their purchases of the costly, early refrigerator models.
The consumer financing service of ReDisCo proved to be the same type of spark plug to the sales of Kelvinator refrigerators the the financing of retail automobile paper had long
been to the sale of motor cars.
Today, ReDisCo's service is extended to include Kelvinator, Leonard, and ABC distributors and dealers; and manufacturers who buy Kelvinator products.  Its service covers all 48
states, Canada, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska.  Over this area, ReDisCo has at one time served as many as 5,000 dealer accounts and over 300,000 individuals.
Set up in 1946 to make plastic parts for Kelvinator and Leonard, the plastics operation has become a major factor both in the appliance and automotive divisions of American
Today, it has greater capacity to produce large plastice items than any other molding enterprise in America.  Its two plants, at Milwaukee and Evart, Michigan, mold and vacuum
draw hundreds of different parts for American Motors and other manufacturers throughout the country.  These items range all the way from electric range dials to complete inner door
panels for refrigerators.
In injection-type molding equipment, American Motors Plastics has no peer.  Its equipment ranges all the way in size from machines for produching parts weighing four ounces or
less, such as temperature control knobs, washing machine dails and hydromatic gear knobs -- through a gamut of sizes for molding  in maximums of 16, 28, 40, 60, and even 200 ounces.
The 200-ounce hydraulic "molder", which rivals in size the largest automobile body presses, is especially significant because it was built to American Motors specifications, and
employs an advanced and exclusive process originated and perfected by American Motors plastic engineers.
This process, known as "pin-point gating", is a method by which a measured quantity of fluid plastic is driven, by tremendous hydraulic pressure, through a tiny aperture into the
mold.  The exactness, speed and control of the feed result in a strength, uniformity and perfection in the finished part and a production speed and low-cost never before attained.
The original plant was located in Milwaukee, but demand rapidly outgrew its capacity.  In 1952, the Evart Products Company was formed at Evart, Michigan, to provide additional
In October, 1954, the Hudson Special Products Division, a completely autonomous unit, was created to handle all defense contracts for the corportation and to manufacture certain
products for the Automotive and Appliance Divisions.
This move coincided with the termination of automobile production at Hudson's plants in Detroit and the subsequent transfer of production to American Motors' Kenosha and Milwaukee
plants in accordance with the company's program for streamlined and integrated manufacturing.
To continue to make profitable use of these Detroit plants, all current defense work was assigned to them.  At the same time, the new division was created to negotiate further
defense contracts with a view to increasing the revenue from this source.
The division still continues to manufacture Hudson engines and transmissions for the Hornet and Wasp series and other machined parts for the Automotive Division. It has been
engaged in the consturction of fuselage and wing sections for air force bombers.