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issue: June 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

60th Anniversary
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 products—ranges 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.

The 1940s


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 Pump).

The 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.


After World War II, the Nineteen Hundred Corporation - today known as Whirlpool - introduced the top-loading automatic washer.

In 1948 it began to sell a Whirlpool brand automatic washer in addition to the line of appliances it was producing for retailer Sears.

The 1950s

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 earlier.

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.

America 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 and vegetables.

As 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 air circulation.

Maytag introduced an electric clothes dryer in 1953.

Household automatic dishwashers were introduced.

Tappan designed a microwave oven for the residential market.

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 vending industry.

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 1960s

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, was introduced.

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 system.
  • Hoover introduced the Dial-a-Matic, a self-propelled upright vacuum.

The 1970s

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 technologies.

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 HFC-134a.

The original Apple Computer was designed and produced.


  • 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 Industries.

The 1980s

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 ice-cream maker.

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 1990s

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 1998.

The Digital Age

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.

Also 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 conventional ovens.

2000 - 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.

Driving 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 too.

The Control Center of the Automated Home
As more home devices join the network, an always-accessible control center becomes mandatory.

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.

Digital Culture
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 growth.

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 all brands.

Read more about the history of the appliance industry:

April 2003 Whirlpool Special Section
Whirlpool: Then and Now

November 2003 Appliance Magazine
Carrier Corporation's 100 Years of History


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