General Motors Corporation. Frigidaire Division

Variant names

Hide Profile

The first commercially successful electric household refrigerator was produced in the U.S. and offered for sale in 1913. Invented by Fred W. Wolf and called the Domelre, it was an air-cooled refrigeration unit designed for mounting on top of the customer's ice box.

In 1915, Alfred Mellowes, working in a backyard wash house in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, engineered and made an electric refrigerating unit. It differed from other contemporary models because it was self-contained with the compressor located in the bottom of the cabinet.

In 1916, the Guardian Refrigerator Company was organized to manufacture and sell Mellowes's refrigerator. The company began operations in Detroit on a modest scale. Through slow, laborious hand operations, the company turned out its first Guardian on August 17, 1916. However, the financial condition of the company soon became desperate and production was slow. The company produced a quality product but in no great quantity - less than 40 refrigerators in two years.

In 1918, W.C. Durant, then president of General Motors, privately purchased the company and a new name, Frigidaire, was coined. The first Frigidaire refrigerator was built in Detroit in September 1918. In 1919, the company became the Frigidaire Corporation and Wolfe's Dolelre patents were purchased a few years later.

The General Motors acquisition of the company was a turning point. Durant applied the mass production techniques of the automobile industry to the building of refrigerators. Production facilities were improved and additional sales offices opened. As a result, the electric refrigerator received its first impetus. Production continued in Detroit until 1921, when the business was moved to Dayton, Ohio and turned over to Delco-Light Company, a General Motors subsidiary manufacturing individual electric generators for rural use.

In 1926, five years after the move to Dayton, the Frigidaire business far overshadowed the sale of Delco-Light units. For that reason, the two operations were separated and Frigidaire Corporation became a new GM subsidiary with Elmer G. Biechler as president and general manager. Also in 1926, a huge new manufacturing plant was completed in Moraine City, Ohio.

Biechler and his associates further expanded the sales organization, developed overseas markets, and continually pushed expansion of manufacturing facilities. Progress was marked by steady improvement of the product and reductions in price. Also during this period, Frigidaire broadened its production of other applications of refrigeration. Ice cream cabinets were marketed in 1923, soda fountain equipment in 1924, and milk coolers and drinking water coolers in 1927. The one-millionth Frigidaire refrigerator was completed in 1929. Also that year, Frigidaire produced the first room air conditioner and food freezer.

Despite the Great Depression of the 1930's, Frigidaire production and sales grew. During this time, Frigidaire marketed the first electric de-humidifier and entered the field of railroad air conditioning. In 1937, Frigidaire introduced a line of electric ranges. Also outstanding among the achievements of the company in the 1930's were the development of Freon refrigerant and the sealed Meter-Miser compressor.

During World War II, all civilian production was halted as Frigidaire manufactured .50 caliber Browning machine guns, aircraft propellers and parts, hydraulic controls for airplanes and other military items. In the early post-war period, Frigidaire expanded its appliance line to include household laundry equipment, automatic dishwashers, food waste disposers, ice makers, and automobile air conditioning. In 1956, Frigidaire produced its 20 millionth refrigerating unit, a feat unparalleled in the industry. 1950's innovations by Frigidaire included Frigi-Foam insulation, FrostProof freezing, Sheer Look styling, and the Ride-Aire accessory on refrigerators.

In 1965, the 50 millionth product was produced at Frigidaire. This coincided with the company's 50th anniversary.

After the growth and progress of the previous decades, the 1970s began a period of uncertainty and stress. In 1971, several thousand workers were laid off and General Motors was considering moving the company to another location. After management/labor negotiations and a subsequent joint labor/management agreement, it was agreed to begin rehiring some of the laid off workers and begin an all-out comeback drive by cutting prices.

In 1975, due to increased business in automobile air conditioning, General Motors separated that industry from Frigidaire and created a new division called Delco Air Conditioning. Continuing economic problems plagued the Frigidaire Division because its products were not competitive, due to high costs of production.

In January 1979, General Motors announced it had sold Frigidaire to White Consolidated Industries of Cleveland, Ohio. The Frigidaire name, product line, and distribution system were to be continued. The facilities at Dayton, however, were retained by GM to expanded into automotive operations run by Chevrolet Motor Division.

Over the years, Frigidaire pioneered many products and design developments in the refrigeration and home appliance industry. Among the "firsts" not already referred to were steel cabinet units (1926), automatic washer with up and down agitator (1947), thin-wall cabinet design (1958), and computerized "touch control" range (1973).

Excerpted from: Howald, Judith, Register; Frigidaire Collection in the Alumni Historical Collection, General Motors Institute, (Flint, MI), 1980.

From the guide to the Frigidaire Historical Collection, 1913-1980, (Wright State University, Special Collections and Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Seward, Ralph T. (Ralph Theodore), 1907-. Ralph T. Seward. Series 3. General Motors, Frigidaire Division arbitration files, 1949-1953. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Loewy, Raymond, 1893-1986. General office files, 1931-1982 (bulk, 1960-1977). Hagley Museum & Library
creatorOf Frigidaire Historical Collection, 1913-1980 Wright State University, Special Collections and Archives
referencedIn International Union of Electrical Workers. Local 801. Records, 1938-1979. Wright State University Libraries, Paul Laurence Dunbar Library
creatorOf MacGregor, Ann. [Culinary ephemera : refrigerators]. Box 65. William L. Clements Library
referencedIn Loewy, Raymond, 1893-1986. Public relations files, 1921-1981. Hagley Museum & Library
referencedIn Porter, Glenn,. Collection of Raymond Loewy miscellany, 1936-1995. Hagley Museum & Library
referencedIn James Keen Photographic Collection, 1933-1946, 1941-1945 Wright State University, Special Collections and Archives
referencedIn Raymond Loewy Associates. Sales portfolio, c. 1952. Hagley Museum & Library
referencedIn Frigidaire T.O.M. (Tired Old Men) Club Records, 1916-2013, 1950-1970 Wright State University, Special Collections and Archives
referencedIn [General Motors Corporation : historical materials]. Folder 87-4.19-5. Kettering University
creatorOf Pepper, Nancy. [Culinary ephemera : stoves - electric]. Box 156. William L. Clements Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Frididaire TOM (Tired Old Men) Club corporateBody
associatedWith International Union of Electrical Workers. Local 801. corporateBody
associatedWith Keen, James N. person
associatedWith Loewy, Raymond, 1893-1986. person
associatedWith Porter, Glenn, person
associatedWith Raymond Loewy Associates. corporateBody
associatedWith Seward, Ralph T. (Ralph Theodore), 1907- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Household appliances industry
Electric apparatus and appliances
World War, 1939-1945--War work--United States

Corporate Body



Ark ID: w6vm868w

SNAC ID: 34979773