issue: June 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine
60 Years Of Appliance Technology
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by Tim Somheil, Senior Editor
The appliance industry has innovated ceaselessly since the first issue of this magazine was published by Dana Chase Publications in January 1944. Here, on the occasion of our 60th anniversary year, we would like to present an abridged look at just a few of the technology developments that brought the industry to where it is now.
When Dana Chase Publications was born in 1944,
most of the appliances we use today were already in existence. The concept
of the heat pump was 90 years old. Carpet sweepers, iceboxes, and typewriters
had been around since the 1860s and 1870s. In 1889, Edwin Ruud developed
his automatic water heater, and housewife Josephine Citroen developed the
concept of the dishwasher.
The first half of the 20th Century saw the commercialization
of most of the home appliances we know now, and by 1940 most of those
appliances had achieved a configuration
that today's user would find familiar.
Then, appliance development came to a
virtual standstill as producers changed their focus to support the war
effort. In fact, the first-ever Dana Chase Publications
report from an appliance trade exhibition was Refrigerator Manufacturers Feature
War Programs At Furniture Mart. Appliance producer Norge, for example, was
reported to have showcased airplane parts, guns, and gun turrets. Pre-war-era
and room heaters—were relegated to the back of the display.
But the end
of WW II was in sight in 1944, and new military technology would begin reaching
the appliance industry. At the very least, the rapid pace of
pre-war innovation would resume.
Porcelain enamel was the dominant appliance finish. To reduce material
use and costs, porcelain enamellers’ Holy Grail was the one-coat/one-fire
white porcelain finish.
In 1944, supplier Pemco Corporation developed MIRAC, said to be
the first commercially viable one-coat/one-fire white porcelain.
In 1949, Maytag launched its first automatic washer. Key
to its operation was the AMP (Automatic Maytag
unit was designed to be compact and simple
to operate, and its success was so great that
Maytag built a new plant to meet demand.
The magnetron was developed to monitor short-wave—or
microwave—radar for Nazi air attacks. In 1945, Raytheon engineer
Percy L. Spencer was helping to optimize magnetron tube design
when he noticed the candy bar in his pocket began to melt.
Two years later, Raytheon launched the microwave cooking oven,
which was as large as a refrigerator and cost U.S. $2,000 to $3,000.
The first electronic computer was built, and a 30 ft by 50 ft room was
required to house it.
Frigidaire introduced a refrigerator/freezer combination with a completely
separate refrigerator section.
Mirro introduced the first electric metal coffeepot.
Also in 1949, Amana introduced the side-by-side refrigerator/freezer.
World War II, the Nineteen Hundred Corporation - today known
as Whirlpool - introduced the top-loading automatic washer.
1948 it began to sell a Whirlpool brand automatic washer
in addition to the line of appliances it was producing for
Plastic Technology Expands in the 1950s
According to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the Ziegler-Natta polymerization
process is misnamed. In the early 1950s, Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta
both independently developed the new process of synthesizing polymers,
but it was eventually established that two Phillips Petroleum engineers,
Robert Banks and J. Paul Hogan, had come up with the same process a year
The process is important because it enabled the use of many plastics
that have become common in appliance design. Polyethylene and polypropylene
have both been used extensively in appliance parts and packaging
since the 1950s.
Got Wired In The 1950s
Of course, it meant something different in
the 1950s than it does today. Getting wired meant having electrical
a.c. power installed in the home. One of our 1953 news items anticipated
that 50 million U.S. homes would be wired by 1960, greatly increasing
the potential customer base for appliances.
Calor introduced a steam iron.
In the 1950s, Frigidaire offered the Model CIV 115 refrigerator
with the Hydrator storage compartment for fruits
shown in this advertisement from the era, the
Hydrator swung down from the door for access.
When swung into the upright position, food
remained visible through a window. CLICK to
see larger image.
Servel engineers developed automatic icemakers for residential use. In
a news item published by Dana Chase Publications, it was revealed that
Servel had actually been placing the icemaker in test homes since 1949.
A later issue spotlighted this innovation:
The shape of things to come is seen in the "ice circle" taken
from the full basket of Servel's revolutionary "Ice Maker" refrigerator,
which freezes ice cubes without trays. "Ice Circles" replace
the old type ice cubes.
Our January 1953 product Spotlight featured the Bendix Duomatic Combination
washer-dryer, designed to do the complete laundering job. As a safety
feature, the unit stopped automatically when the door was opened, and
restarted when the door was closed.
In 1953, the new Ruud Duo-Temp Laundrymaster hot water heater
was designed to provide 180°F water to meet the demands of
the clothes washer and dishwasher, and to provide 125°F water
for general home use.
Also in 1953, Carrier’s Home Weathermaker was developed
to bring complete winter and summer air-conditioning to the low-cost,
mass-market home. The unit provided home heating and cooling and
removed excess humidity, as well as offering year-round filtered
Maytag introduced an electric clothes dryer in 1953.
Household automatic dishwashers were introduced.
Tappan designed a microwave oven for the residential
Westinghouse's newest built-in oven was spotlighted in the magazine.
The 24-in-wide range was said to be the largest built-in available.
The oven was equipped with a Look-In glass panel in the door and a
Peek-A-Boo light so the user could view the interior without opening
the door. The company also introduced a cooktop with four detachable
plug-in cooking units.
Also in 1955, the magazine featured the Florence gas range with
the Governess—a thermostatically controlled surface burner.
This fifth burner was designed to provide top-of-the-range cooking
temperatures for deep fat frying and pan frying. The temperature
was set using a thermostatic dial. When the contents of the cooking
utensil reached the desired temperature, the gas flame lowered
automatically to maintain the food at that temperature. The range
also featured a rotisserie in the broiler oven.
In 1955, the Kelvinator two-cycle automatic washer featured top-loading
and a Do-All dial control that could be adjusted to skip, lengthen,
repeat, or shorten any phase of the regular cycle, for normal loads,
or the fully automatic second cycle for fine fabrics.
A Hotpoint electric washing machine was designed
so it could be set for hot or warm wash water and for warm or cold
rinse water. The controls also allowed the user to pre-select the
desired washing time. A two-cycle dial offered control of separate
cycles for washing regular fabrics and for delicate/man-made materials.
Also in 1956, Udico produced the first electric can opener.
Whirlpool introduced its first Icemagic automatic icemaker.
Also in 1958, General Air Conditioning Corporation developed an
all-in-one unit that combined a refrigerator, range (with oven,
if desired), freezer, and sink into one enclosure. The steel cabinet
was offered with natural wood or white finishes. The cooktop and
sink were stainless steel.
In 1958, the magazine’s first special section devoted to
vending machines and automatic merchandising included a new bill
changer mechanism from A.B.T. Mfg., Corp. of Rockford, IL, U.S.
The unit was said to be the first practical robot cashier in the
In the same issue, we published Change-maker with a "magic
brain," which was called a "new type of change-maker…a
totalizer-computer." A single component board mounted the
totalizer components on the face and computing components on the
back. This device used printed circuitry to reduce space requirements
and costs—and to enable the vending machine to offer items
with different prices.
In 1958, in our annual report on the home laundry appliance industry,
we detailed the engineering behind Philco's Automagic washer. A
forerunner to later accelerated design strategies, Philco condensed
a typical 4-year development process into 18 months.
The Xerox 914, the first xerographic office copier, began
The slippery stuff called Teflon was developed in 1938—but in the
1960s Du Pont started coating kitchen pans with the material.
Also in the 1960s, Du Pont introduced R-502 refrigerant for commercial
cooling applications. Before long, the refrigerant was used in more than
10,000 U.S. supermarkets.
Hotpoint’s Space-Age 18 was an 18-cu-ft refrigerator
that had the same exterior measurements as the 14-cu-ft model in 1959.
This enhancement to interior space arose from 5 years of development
on the Wonderwall, a laminated cabinet combining finely spun fiberglass
with polyethylene, saran, and kraft paper. The inch-thick cabinet wall
of the composite material was said to be comparable to a 3-in-thick cabinet
of conventional insulation materials.
The 1960 Lady Kenmore washer featured a programming control unit, first
offered in 1959, but substantially refined for the second model year.
The new washing machine model had a power timer component with a rinse
and spin selection. It also had a dispensing control unit for liquid
detergent and fabric conditioner. The controls allowed for the designation
of a new super-wash cycle with selections for cold or warm water.
GE introduced the toaster oven.
The cordless hand mixer, Sunbeam’s Mixmaster,
The magazine featured Webcor’s Viscount II,
a new high-fidelity tape recorder. The three-speed monaural unit had
a suggested retail price of $140. It came in a 20-lb carrying case with
two speakers and an amplifier.
Also in 1963, the Micro-Therm heating unit from Dunham-Bush was a wall-mounted
heat source for hydronic heating systems and for water heating. The largest
unit, reaching 82,000-BTU, was said to be equal to a 100,000-BTU gas
or oil-fired unit. It generated instant hot water with an energy cell
heating element wound from high nickel alloy.
In 1963, the magazine spotlighted Burroughs Corporation’s new
electronic disk file, capable of storing 960 million characters. The
data storage units were used with Burroughs B5000 and B2000 computers.
GE introduced a two-oven range for home use in 1963, as well as the
first electric knife and a self-cleaning oven.
GE introduced the first electric toothbrush in 1966.
Our report on the 1966 Housewares Show described the introduction of
several solid state models. A Westinghouse blender model used solid state
controls to enable infinite speed adjustability and blender timer functions
- the pushbutton timer allowed the selection of blend time up to 60 sec
- A turntable for the microwave oven was introduced by Sharp.
- Jenn-Air launched the first downdraft ventilated cooktop.
- Amana’s 115-V countertop Radarange microwave was launched.
- Fagor of Spain began making washing machines.
Frigidaire introduced the Reversa Door, which
opened to either the right or the left.
In 1969, GE Appliances introduced the first side-by-side refrigerator/freezer
with an automatic dispenser for ice cubes and chilled
water through the door.
- Whirlpool’s Trashmasher trash compactor was introduced.
- We reported that electric ranges had out-shipped gas ranges for
the first time. On the cover of that issue was an example of the
latest electric cooking technology, the Mira-Cool Tappan range.
It’s self-clean oven had a radiant burner, heat exchanger,
and low-excess-air combustion system, all designed to keep the
kitchen cool during the self-clean cycle. The technology was said
to reduce the exhaust air from 930°F to 250°F.
- Sony introduced the world’s first U-matic videocassette
- Hoover introduced the Dial-a-Matic, a self-propelled upright
In the 1970s, the energy crisis prompted the U.S. Congress to adopt thermostat-setting
limits—which were frequently ignored. The energy crisis aroused
a flurry of new awareness, and spurred development of energy-efficiency
The magazine reports that 99.8 percent of homes
in the U.S. with electricity have a refrigerator.
- GE and Hotpoint refrigerators featured exterior ice service and
ice water dispensers.
- Dishwashers entered the Japanese market for the first time.
- Sony marketed the first U-matic color videocassette player.
- The Mr. Coffee brewing system was introduced.
The first incarnation of the glass smoothtop range
arrived in 1970. Extensive resources went into the development of the
glass-ceramic, as well as the iron-base-alloy used for the heating
element. In 1972, Modern Maid, Inc. launched an aggressive effort to
market the technology. Still, smoothtops did not catch on until years
later, with the development of superior glass and heating element technology.
In 1972, induction cooking made its first appearance at retail.
An article in the February 1972 issue of APPLIANCE detailed Westinghouse’s
development of the new cooking technology, first demonstrated in
prototype form in 1971. The CT-II Cool/Heat Countertop Range was
scheduled to launching the second half of that year.
The food processor was introduced in the U.S.
The scientific paper Stratospheric sink for
chlorofluoromethanes-chlorine atomic catalyzed destruction of ozone,
authored by M. J. Molina and F. S. Rowland, was published in January.
By the end of the year, the world became alarmed for the first time
about predictions of atmospheric ozone depletion.
Appliance industry suppliers of CFCs began large-scale alternative
development efforts in the years that followed. Before the seventies
were over, Du Pont began selling the non-chlorine-containing refrigerant
The original Apple Computer was designed and
- UL listed its first microwave oven.
- The first solid-state, electronic touch-controlled washer was
introduced by Whirlpool.
- Whirlpool introduced a delay-start system for dishwashers.
- The electric sandwich maker was introduced in the U.S. buy Equity
The 1980s marked the escalation of engineering efforts to deal with issues
of energy efficiency mandates and CFC phaseout. The unprecedented
1987 Montreal Protocol created a multi-national commitment to halve
CFC use within a decade.
Soon after, Du Pont, one of the world's biggest suppliers of CFCs
to the appliance industry, committed to completely transition out
of CFCs and into alternatives. The company shared its development
data with the industry.
The late 1980s saw extensive efforts by chemical suppliers to
come up with CFC alternatives for both refrigerant and for use
in blowing foam insulation. Just as vital was the development of
new compressor lubricants needed to work with the refrigerants.
Next to take the baton were the compressor makers, who developed
compressors to work with the new refrigerants and lubricants.
Still, appliance producers were involved in CFC-phase-out at every
step, and technology sharing reached a new pinnacle in the industry
over the CFC-phaseout issue. The Association of Home Appliance
Manufacturers (AHAM) formed its Appliance Research Consortium to
help the U.S. appliance industry deal with the conflicting challenges
of phasing out CFCs while meeting 1993 energy-efficiency standards
for residential refrigerators.
- Groupe SEB introduced the use of electronics in appliances for
features such as timers and automatic shut-off.
- York introduced heat pump systems.
- IBM entered the personal computer market.
Admiral introduced a refrigerator with a built-in
Also in 1982, Lennox introduced the pulse furnace.
- Rowenta introduced a wet/dry vacuum cleaner.
- GE ended monochrome TV production.
- Maytag stopped manufacturing its wringer washer.
- The wet/dry vacuum was introduced for home use.
- Andis introduced a cordless curling brush.
- West Bend introduced a cordless iron.
- Italian appliance maker Candy developed a washer that
identified fabric types, provided voice feedback, and monitored
the wash load.
- The cordless stick vacuum was introduced.
- Cool-touch small appliances became popular.
- Breadmakers were introduced
The phase-out of CFC production was set in stone by the 1990 Clean Air
Act Amendments. Appliance companies had been actively involved in
the CFC-phaseout issue, but hands-on design work escalated in the
1990s as CFC-free refrigeration prototypes became available. The
first mass-marketable CFC-free refrigerators were designed.
By 1993, APPLIANCE magazine reported that the U.S.
appliance industry has generally settled on HFC-134a as the dominant
alternative to CFC-12 as a refrigerant. By optimizing refrigeration
systems, 134a was seen as a break-even in terms of energy efficiency.
Insulation was a different story. In 1993, many
producers were leaning toward using HCFC-141b for blown foam insulation,
but efficiency was still less than what was achievable using CFC-11—and
new, as-yet-undefined federal energy standards were expected for
In the 1990s, the world embraced digital technology
on a massive scale, most obviously in the development of less-costly
personal computer technology, which put the Information Appliance
in most U.S. homes during the decade. Personal computer proliferation
enabled, and then was driven by, Internet use, discovered by the
masses in the early 1990s. The Internet was discovered by the masses
in the early 1990s and use had exploded by 1995.
Another aspect of the growth of digital technology
had a more significant impact on the appliance industry—the
broadening use of electronic controls. Electronics were by no means
new, but in the last decade of the 20th Century, they became less
expensive, as did everything digital.
More electronics were designed into appliances, creating
friendlier user interfaces and broad new potential for functionality.
Energy efficiency benefited from electronics’ ability to
optimize appliance functionality more dynamically than ever before.
In the early 1990s, home automation was
another technology-enabled leap that many in the industry thought
was imminent. Despite global endeavors to create home automation
protocols, it never quite happened.
It wasn't until the end of the decade, and the millennium,
that home networking technology came within the reach
of the average consumer, and became even more practical as inexpensive
wireless networking technology reached the market.
Whirlpool introduced the World Washer, designed
and assembled in Brazil, Mexico, and India.
Vacuum panels for refrigeration insulation,
developed with different filling materials and films, were beginning
to garner serious interest. The panels were more costly than blown
foam and their ability to hold the vacuum over the potential 15
to 20 year lifetime of a refrigerator was unproved. On the plus
side, the panels could lead to thinner refrigerator cabinets and
more usable interior space.
Also in 1993, Italian producer Candy introduced CFC-free
refrigerators. The pioneering line used 134a as the refrigerant
and 141b for the insulation.
Refrigerator designers felt like they were between a rock and a hard
place as they struggled to meet increasingly stringent energy-efficiency
standards at the same time they were phasing out the very tools—CFCs—that
helped them achieve their already outstanding energy efficiencies.
Putting a positive spin on technology development
was the Super Efficient Refrigerator Program (SERP), a non-profit
corporation comprising 25 public and private utilities in the U.S.
The SERP-sponsored competition challenged appliance companies to
bring a new generation of refrigerators to market. The refrigerator
was to be CFC-free and significantly more efficient than the 1993
efficiency standards. SERP named Whirlpool Corporation and Frigidaire
Company the finalists in 1992. Whirlpool was declared the SERP
winner in 1994.
- Air quality became a major concern in the floor care industry,
and European producers engineered air filtration into vacuums on
a large scale.
- Using technology developed by Apple, IBM, and Motorola, Apple
Computer introduced the Power Macintosh, capable of utilizing Apple
and IBM software.
- Norris Communications introduced a voice recorder that stores
audio electronically instead of on magnetic tape.
Some 22 years after the issue of ozone depletion first came to the public
eye, CFC production was phased out in the U.S.
Maytag introduced the Neptune® washer,
a front-loading washer for the U.S. with the high-efficiency and
wash performance capabilities of horizontal-axis washer technology.
Many industry watchers were certain that Maytag was going down
the wrong path—conventional wisdom said that U.S. appliance
buyers would not pay a premium for energy efficiency.
The success of the Neptune proved that conventional wisdom was
wrong. As of 2004, 7 years after its introduction, Neptune remains
a cornerstone of the Maytag product lineup.
Speed cooking was developed with various technology
configurations. The goal was faster cooking with quality results
comparable to a conventional oven. In 1999, GE Appliances launched
one of the most successful units, the Advantium™, relying
on powerful halogen lights to cook up to four times faster than
- The New Millenium
It’s the 21st Century. The long-held vision of an automatic home,
in which all appliances communicate, is becoming a reality, but almost
as a side-effect rather than by design.
the Home Network
The increasingly sophisticated consumer is tougher to wow and has yet
to be convinced that controlling refrigerator temperature by telephone
is an added convenience. It’s the entertainment and computing benefits
that attract them to home networks—home media servers are cool,
and every PC in the house needs to be online. If the wall oven happens
to be controllable on the same network, well, that’s a nice touch
Control Center of the Automated Home
As more home devices join the network, an always-accessible control center
This is the thinking behind the development of Internet appliances like
the Electrolux Screenfridge and other online refrigerators that began
to appear around the turn of the century. It's right there, in the kitchen,
where the average person does a lot of his or her living.
The culture has changed since the Screenfridge made its first appearance
at the Domotechnica trade show in Cologne, Germany. At the time, there
were more than a few snide remarks along the lines of, "Why in the
world would you want a computer in your refrigerator?"
That was 5 years ago - recent by the standards of last century’s
appliance industry, ancient history as measured in the Digital Age. Now,
one is more likely to hear a comment like, "Why don’t they
just put a computer in this thing to make it do what I want?"
Whirlpool Corporation introduced the Polara™ Refrigerated Range,
allowing users to store food in a refrigerated state and cook it automatically
at the selected time.
The Whirlpool Polara™ Refrigerated Range combines two
basic appliance functions - cooling and heating.
The unit’s refrigeration system is engineered with a fan for cooling
(it also has a fan for convection cooking), a compressor, and programmable
controls. The range will hold food in a warming mode (170°F) for
up to 1 hr after cooking. If the food has not been removed by then, the
Polara reverts to cooling mode.
Food safety is increasingly an industry focus, and
in 2001, Electrolux Home Products announced it would make appliances
using AK Steel’s AgION™ antimicrobial-coated stainless steels.
Silver ions in the coating, encapsulated in a glass-ceramic compound,
are released gradually to offer long-term protection from microorganism
The Frigidaire brand is slated for a full line of appliances using
an anti-bacterial steel and, by 2003, an anti-bacterial coating was being
used in all Electrolux’s European freestanding refrigerators under