Whirlpools origins started with a life insurance salesman called Lou Upton who in 1908 put all his money into a business that was to make household appliances. This failed and Lou would never get his money back but was offered the chance to take anything that he wished from the failing business. What he took was the patents for a hand washing machine with the intention of trying to attach an electric motor to it. He worked on this for the next two years and in 1911 with his uncle Emory and a $ 5,000 business investment from a Chicago executive called L. Bassford he opened the Upton Machine Company in St Joseph, Michigan. Shortly after opening and producing an electric washer with a wringer they won a contract to supply a company which was a branch of Commonwealth Edison called Federal Electric. A defect in the design using a cast gear meant all off the first one hundred machines broke down but Upton freely repaired all of them with a solid steel machined gear to solve the problem.
He thought that good ethics and conduct were vital to establishing a good reputation with buyers and manufacturers. For three years they prospered and grew until this company decided to start making their own washer product causing Upton to find new streams of income fast to stay in business. They produced whatever they could sell to keep the company going with goods ranging from camping equipment to car accessories and even toys.
His ethics and fairness in business paid off as in 1916 impressed with the Upton Companies reputation Sears who ran a mail order only business placed two off Upton’s washers in their catalog. Within one year Sears were selling the washing machines quicker than Upton could make them and they knew that a larger production plant was required. Sears delighted with the products gave Upton a loan to expand his factory in 1921 off $ 87,000 and two years later agreed to sell exclusively only Upton’s washing machines both the electric and rural gasoline versions. With production demands still increasing Upton decided to merge with a company called the Nineteen Hundred Washer Company of Binghamton and the merged company was called the Nineteen Hundred Corporation. This new company continued to grow even through the depression and continued to expand and develop new products until the Second World War started and all appliance production was halted. But Upton was smart and the production lines were carefully dismantled and stored so that after the war restarting production would be a relatively straightforward task.
During the war they were very busy making aircraft parts such as propellers and electric sighting systems and many other components vital to the war effort. Production off washing machines restarted in 1945 with the introduction of a new type of machine the automatic spin washer introduced in 1947 called the Jeep. In 1948 they launched a new range off household appliances which were called the whirlpool range which contained washers, wringers, dryers and irons. Lou Upton retired in 1949 and Elisha Gray II took over as president of the company and in 1950 due to the success of the whirlpool range he changed the company’s name to the Whirlpool Corporation and it remains with that name today as one of the biggest household appliance manufacturers in the world.
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