Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Kelvinator Corporation

The Kelvinator Corporation, pioneers in automatic refrigeration technology, has its roots in 1914 with former General Motors executives Edmund J. Copeland and Arnold H. Goss. That year in Detroit, inventor Nathaniel B. Wales pitched to 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 normal ice boxes having separate cooling units installed, as well as a condenser unit that was bulky and usually stored in a basement or room separate from the refrigerator. They began steadily purchasing the base ice boxes from the Grand Rapids Refrigeration Company in 1918. Within ten years of foundation, 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 Leonard Refrigerator Company and maintaining the Leonard line, known for high-end and stylish refrigerators, complimenting the standard Kelvinator line. The corporation also produced the world’s first two-door household refrigerator in 1934.

In 1936, the Kelvinator Corporation was merged with Nash Motor Company, supposedly because Nash Motors wanted the expertise of Kelvinator President George W. Mason. This merger formed the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, and would be the face of the company as it moved into the years of World War II. During the war, the corporation functioned as part of the Arsenal of Democracy, producing aeronautics parts and propellers. Later in the war, Nash-Kelvinator produced over half of the Sikorsky R-6 helicopters used, making World War II the first to see the use of military helicopters. Following the war, normal refrigerator production resumed, 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 auto-manufacturers merger to that point with the consolidation of Nash and Hudson Motors into the American Motors Corporation. Production continued at American Motors until 1968, when rights to the Kelvinator brand were sold to White Consolidated Industries. White Consolidated Industries 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 besides the United States. The Kelvinator legacy is not completely gone from United States manufacturing however: in 1999, 70% of all freezers produced in the US were still made in former Kelvinator factories owned by Electrolux International.

Written by Brent Maynard



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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