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issue: April 2003 Whirlpool Special Section

Whirlpool Special Section
Whirlpool: Then and Now

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Whirlpool Corporation's history dates back to 1911, when Upton Machine Company was founded in St. Joseph, MI, U.S. to produce an electric, motor-driven wringer washer.

The order came from Federal Electric. Upton General Manager Louis Upton's expert salesmanship resulted in the production and delivery of 100 washing machines. A problem occurred, however, when the machines were put to use. A cast iron gear in the transmission failed in every machine. Mr. Upton convinced the management of Federal Electric that a new, cut-steel gear would fix the problem. Even though the company could ill afford it, he volunteered to repair all the machines. Federal Electric was so impressed with Mr. Upton's integrity and that of his company that they agreed to the repair, and at the same time placed an order for an additional 100 washing machines.

The decision to make good on the defective products was that of a man who believed in doing the right thing. To Mr. Upton's way of thinking, ethical conduct was just good business. Repairing the defective gears, free of charge, was one of many executive decisions that were to occur that would establish and maintain throughout the company's history: a strong reputation for doing the right thing for consumers, suppliers, and the communities in which Whirlpool operated.

Another important event for Whirlpool occurred in 1916, when the company established a business relationship with Sears, Roebuck and Co. Sears decided to market the Upton-manufactured washer under the trade name "Allen." The Sears catalog listed two models: one for U.S. $54.75 and a deluxe model for $95. At a board meeting in October of 1916, Mr. Upton reported that the relationship with Sears was developing wellÉso well, in, fact, that Sears began selling Allen washers faster than the Upton Machine Company could make them.

Sears loaned the Uptons $87,500 for a plant expansion in 1921 which would enable the company to build more washers. Then, in the years following World War I, the U.S. economy went bust. Sears' washer sales dropped 65 percent, and it was forced to cancel the rest of the order.

By mid-1925, the Upton Machine Company had become the only source of supply for Sears electric- and gasoline-powered washing machines. The agreement was more than incidentally related to the open, friendly business relationship that developed between General Robert E. Wood, a president and later Chairman of the Board at Sears, and Mr. Upton. General Wood and Mr. Upton sealed their business agreement not with a contractÉbut with a handshake, in the same manner in which the original Whirlpool and Sears agreement between Sears Chairman of the Board Julius Rosenwald and Mr. Upton was sealed. The Whirlpool and Sears handshake is still the basis for the relationship today.

Upton continued to grow, and in 1929, merged with Nineteen Hundred Washer Company of Binghamton, NY, U.S. However, in 1942, all equipment necessary for the production of washers and ironers at the Nineteen Hundred Corporation was crated and stored, making way for war-time production. The people at the Nineteen Hundred Corporation were responsible for modifying a shipboard anti-aircraft gun with an electric sighting mechanism and another to the trailing edge portion of a P-40 Kittyhawk fighter wing. Other military equipment produced included more than 68,000 airplane propellers. Production of washers and ironers was resumed in August 1945.

In 1950, the company changed its name to Whirlpool Corporation. While the 1950s were a time of great expansion for the company, one expansion stood out in particular: an expansion into space. In 1957, the U.S. Air Force asked Whirlpool Corporation to build a theoretical "space" kitchen in which astronauts could prepare and eat foods in a zero-gravity condition. Whirlpool accepted the challenge, and from that project gained valuable know-how in dealing with zero-gravity, space vehicle atmosphere, and astronaut life support problems. In 1962, Whirlpool was awarded the contract to develop the feeding and waste management systems for the Gemini project. The life support system developed under this contract formed the basis for future feeding systems.

Whirlpool received the prime contract to provide the feeding systems for the Apollo program in 1967, and by the early 1970s was involved in designing and producing the food supply and related food handling equipment for NASA's Skylab program. Whirlpool engineers designed food and equipment that had to fall within rigid volume and weight limits, yet meet prescribed nutritional requirements. They had to be able to withstand decompression, acceleration, and the other rigors of space travel.

In 1955 automatic dryers, refrigerators, ranges, and air-conditioners were added to the Whirlpool¨ product line, and in 1956, a new administrative center was completed on 100-acre site in Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.

While Whirlpool certainly has had a customer care plan in place throughout its history, in 1967 a toll-free Cool-Line Telephone Service - now known as the Customer Interaction Center - was established which gives customers direct, 24-hr access to the company.

The year 1968 was another milestone for the company, as its annual revenues reached $1 billion for the first time. In 1978, the company would report revenues of $2 billion, and $6 billion in 1989.

The 1980s and 1990s saw Whirlpool Corporation's expansion in the global market in Europe, Mexico, India, Canada, China, South Africa, Argentina, and Brazil. Today, 92 years after Lou Upton started a company that gained entry into the appliance industry by producing an electric, motor-driven wringer washer, Whirlpool continues to shape and lead the global home appliance industry.

APPLIANCE Magazine Whirlpool Special Section - April 2003

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