Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Kelvinator Corporation

The Kelvinator Corporation, a pioneer in automatic refrigeration technology, had its roots in 1914 with Buick executives Edmund J. Copeland and Arnold H. Goss. In Detroit, inventor Nathaniel B. Wales pitched the entrepreneurs his idea for an automatic refrigeration machine for the home. Within two years, Wales presented them with the first functioning model, and the Electro-Automatic Refrigerating Company was established in 1916. Just two months later, the company was renamed the Kelvinator Corporation in honor of Lord Kelvin, the British physicist who discovered absolute zero and established the Kelvin temperature scale.

Production began with installing separate cooling units in normal ice boxes, adding a bulky condenser unit that was usually stored in a basement or room separate from the refrigerator. Then, in 1918, the company began purchasing porcelain-lined ice boxes from the Grand Rapids Refrigeration Company. In 1925, the Kelvinator Corporation produced the industry’s first self-contained electric home refrigerator. Rapid growth of production and sales encouraged the corporation to buy out the Grand Rapids Refrigeration Company in 1926, renaming it the Kelvinator-Leonard Refrigerator Company. Charles Leonard was a founding member of the Grand Rapids company. They maintained the Leonard line, known for high-end and stylish refrigerators, which complimented the standard Kelvinator line. The corporation also produced the world’s first two-door household refrigerator in 1934.

In 1937, the Kelvinator Corporation merged with Nash Motor Company. Nash Motors wanted the expertise of Kelvinator President George W. Mason, a production engineer who worked for numerous car companies before coming to Kelvinator. He presided at Kelvinator from 1928-36, then served as president of the new company, Nash-Kelvinator, from 1936-54. During World War II, the corporation functioned as part of the Arsenal of Democracy, producing aeronautic parts. Later in the war, Nash-Kelvinator produced over half of the Sikorsky R-6 helicopters, the first military helicopter to be used in a war. Normal refrigerator production resumed postwar, and the company expanded by 1952 to manufacture other home appliances like ranges, washers, and driers.

In 1954, Nash-Kelvinator Corporation was part of the largest corporate merger to date when Nash and Hudson Motors consolidated into the American Motors Corporation. Production continued at American Motors until 1968, when rights to the Kelvinator brand were sold to White Consolidated Industries, which was subsequently bought out by A.B. Electrolux in 1986, marking the final passage of the Kelvinator brand. The brand is still being marketed, although mainly in countries outside the United States. The Kelvinator legacy is not completely gone from United States manufacturing however: in 1999, seventy percent of all freezers produced in the U.S. were still made in former Kelvinator factories owned by Electrolux International.



Promotional photo for a Kelvinator dishwasher, 1960s - 2012.032.195

Photo showing a woman using a Kelvinator stove, 1958 - 2012.046.440

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