For more than 80 years, the Kelvinator fridge has occupied a space in the kitchens, back sheds and garages of many Australian homes.
It also has a place in the history books as one of the pioneering home refrigeration technologies that went on to find enduring commercial success.
Engineer Nathaniel B Wales founded the now renowned US company on September 18, 1914 in Detroit, Michigan. The young inventor had successfully pitched the idea of an automatic refrigeration machine to Edmund J Copeland and Arnold H Goss, executives from the Buick automotive company, who decided to back the new venture.
The Electro-Automatic Refrigerating Company was subsequently set up with the aim of developing and marketing the first household mechanical refrigerators.
In honour of Lord Kelvin – the Irish-Scottish physicist who discovered absolute zero and established the Kelvin temperature scale – it was later renamed the Kelvinator Company.
Over the next five decades and despite a seven-year hiatus contributing to war efforts, the company would be credited with producing some of the industry’s most innovative fridges.
The Kelvinator was among the first home refrigerators introduced to the US market in 1916. Two years later, it became the first refrigerator with automatic control.
The company produced the industry’s first self-contained electric home refrigerator in 1925, and in 1934 pioneered the world’s first two-door household refrigerator.
During the Second World War, the manufacturing facilities of the company were completely turned over to the production of military supplies and equipment.
Contributing to the field of testing airplane components at ultra-low temperatures and instruments under high-altitude conditions, the research work performed by the London office of Kelvinator was credited with saving the lives of many Allied aircrews.
In the 1950s, the company returned to form with the Kelvinator fridge, the first to introduce auto-defrost and side-by-side refrigeration features.
Named “Foodarama” by Kelvinator, the standalone two-door freezer unit was considered revolutionary for its features and lightweight storage – weighing in at a modest 75kg while providing 311 litres of cooling space.
The rights to the Kelvinator brand were sold to White Consolidated Industries in 1968, and subsequently bought out by A.B. Electrolux in 1986.
Although Kelvinator fridges continue to be produced and sold to this day, it’s reasonably safe to say that the brand’s heyday in Australia was somewhere between the swinging 1960s – just as the country’s mass consumer market for fridges was taking off – and the 1970s.
Until the 2016 closure of Australia’s last fridge factory in Orange, NSW, the Electrolux factory was producing about 1,300 refrigerators every day under the Kelvinator and Westinghouse brands.