Whirlpool Corporation is the world's leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances, with annual sales of more than $19 billion in 2011, 68,000 employees, and 66 manufacturing and technology research centers around the world. The company markets Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Brastemp, Consul, Bauknecht and other major brand names to consumers in nearly every country around the world.
Our beginnings, though, were much more humble, based on a business failure and the vision of one family. In 1908, Lou Upton invested his savings in a venture to manufacture household equipment. When that company failed to materialize, Upton was offered the opportunity to select something of value from the failed venture as a return on his investment. He chose the patents on a hand washing machine that he thought might be electrified.
Lou Upton brought the patents and his innovative vision home to St. Joseph, Michigan. In 1911, Lou joined his uncle Emory and brother Fred to produce motor-driven wringer washers as the Upton Machine Company. To learn more about Whirlpool Corporation's history and their 100th anniversary celebration, click here.
The company's first major order for 100 washing machines came almost immediately. A problem arose when a cast-iron gear in the transmission failed — in every single machine. Upon learning of the issue, Lou Upton replaced the defective parts with a new cut-steel gear. Impressed with the fledgling company's business ethics, the customer doubled its order to 200 washing machines.
Upton Machine continued to grow. In order to meet increased customer demand, in 1929 it merged with the Nineteen Hundred Washer Company of New York. Together they formed the Nineteen Hundred Corporation, and business grew steadily, in spite of the Great Depression of the 1930s. We began experimenting with new products, innovative technologies and strong engineering and sales.
World War II halted washer production, as factories were modified to provide components for the P-40 Warhawk aircrafts and military equipment. More than two million units of war materials were produced, including aircraft propeller pitch controls, trailing edges for fighter wings, hydraulic steering mechanisms for tank retrievers, carburetor parts, pumps, gears and gear cases.
In the summer of 1945, we began producing washers again, anticipating that within three years demand would be twice that of 1941. This began a period of explosive growth that would take us from a small manufacturer of washers and ironers to a large manufacturer of a full line of major home appliances, including the first fully-automatic washer and electric dryer.
In 1949, we changed our company’s name to Whirlpool Corporation to contribute to the recognition of our signature brand. We had grown to lead the industry, achieving $48 million in sales and annual earnings of $3 million.
COMMITMENT TO SOCIETY
Lou and Fred Upton established the Whirlpool Foundation following the war, making a commitment – a promise – to reinvest in the community. Their intent was to provide financial and leadership support for nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life in the communities where Whirlpool Corporation operated.
During the post-war boom years of the 1950s, we looked for new ways to expand our product offering. In 1955, we merged with the Seeger Refrigeration Company, which provided us with a quality refrigerator line. As part of the merger we also acquired RCA’s air conditioning and range businesses, allowing us to provide customers with exceptional products that met their needs. In 1958, we took our first tentative step toward operating in foreign markets by entering a partnership with Brazil’s Brasmotor S.A., parent of appliance maker Multibras S.A. Eletrodomesticos.
By the start of the 1970s, Whirlpool offered appliances to handle laundry, home heating and cooling, and the full cycle of food preservation, preparation, consumption and cleanup, in the kitchen. We continued introducing innovative products that performed more efficiently and helped make household tasks easier. To support our consumers, we introduced the Cool Line, the first toll-free consumer service support program in the United States.
We formed the Office for Environmental Control in 1970, solidifying our focus on social and environmental responsibility. This group allowed us to standardize strong environmental standards across all of our operations. Concurrently, we formed partnerships with environmental advocates, industry representatives and legislators to help craft robust energy and water efficiency standards, test procedures and policies, a commitment that continues today.
THE FIRST SPACE KITCHEN
In October 1960, Whirlpool received a government contract to design and build America’s first experimental space kitchen. The kitchen included a miniature thermoelectric refrigerator, freezer, three-cavity oven, self-heated water system, storage space for food and disposal units for both dry and wet waste. This was the first attempt by appliance engineers to cope with the problems of zero gravity, and a number of innovative solutions were developed. Our work helped build public knowledge of and confidence in the space effort. Whirlpool continued working with the government to develop food and equipment for space travel, pioneering the development of food, waste management and personal hygiene systems used in all of NASA’s Gemini, Apollo and Skylab missions.
We began growing our international business, expanding into Mexico. We also built a manufacturing plant in Pondicherry, India, and began manufacturing and marketing appliances throughout Europe. In 1986, we purchased the KitchenAid division of Dart and Kraft, allowing us to continue the excellent tradition of major and countertop appliances for which KitchenAid is known.
Whirlpool accelerated our global expansion in the 1990s, with an expanded presence throughout Europe, Latin America, Asia and parts of Africa. We were well on our way to becoming a global force in the home appliance industry and the industry’s eventual leader.
In 2006, we took the significant step of acquiring Maytag Corporation, resulting in an aligned organization able to offer more to consumers in the increasingly competitive global marketplace. The transaction enabled us to become a more efficient supplier to trade customers while offering a broader portfolio of innovative, high-quality branded products and services to consumers.
Our focus on environmental sustainability continued with an emphasis on consistently offering a full line of energy- and water-efficient products. In 2003, we became the world’s first appliance manufacturer to announce a global greenhouse gas reduction target, a 3 percent reduction from 1998 levels by 2008. We revised the target in 2007, to a goal of 6.6 percent reduction by 2012. Currently our operations’ release of toxic chemicals in the United States is nearly 90 percent less than the releases compared to the 1987 baseline year, while at the same time production increased approximately 80 percent.
One of the ways we demonstrate our commitment to community and society is through our partnership with Habitat for Humanity International, which began in 1999, when we began donating a range and an ENERGY STAR®-qualified refrigerator to every Habitat for Humanity home built in North America. Our commitment has expanded to include support for every Habitat home built globally by 2011, either through product donations, cash or home sponsorship.
Throughout the years, Whirlpool has built a culture of doing the right thing based on living up to our commitments to stakeholders and by quietly working behind the scenes to strengthen the economic and social fabric of the communities in which we operate. Our employees live by the values that have made our company the international leader that it is today. We are delivering strong performance, providing an outstanding portfolio of brands, and we’re creating better, more innovative products that improve consumers’ lives in and around the home each and every day. Nearly 100 years ago, the Upton family continually improved their washer; they cared about their community, their employees and their customers. They believed that "there is no right way to do a wrong thing." We still believe that today.