In the early days of electric ovens, refrigerators, and washing machines, just having a machine to do your housework was a luxury. The appliances were huge, heavy, and expensive—very, very expensive. Start-up brands thrived on innovations and keen marketing. But as home goods were commoditized, what had once been a luxury became mundane. In such a changing landscape, only massive corporations had what it took to survive.
Of course, none of those classics made it into our labs since Reviewed.com only started testing and recommending appliances less than three years ago. But a hundred years from now—when we dominate the world of product reviews and begin construction on the first lunar appliance test lab—who knows what the consumer appliance landscape will look like? Will 3D printers usher in a revolution that returns innovation to the little fish, or will the leviathan megacorps continue to control the market?
To show us where we're going, we need to see where we've been. So today we look back on the manufacturers of yesteryear. Rest in peace, pioneers.
Why we loved it: You know that microwave you love so much? Well, you wouldn't have one in your house if it wasn't for Tappan. This company dates back to 1881, when it sold cast-iron stoves door-to-door in Ohio. Among the brand's list of innovations is the first microwave oven for home use (based on technology developed by Raytheon), which debuted in 1955.
Why it went away: Though a thriving brand in the 1950s and 1960s, Tappan was eventually absorbed by Frigidaire and then Electrolux. Though Tappan-branded products are occasionally sold, they're typically inexpensive, re-badged white-label appliances aimed at contractors and landlords.
Why we loved it: Kelvinator—named in tribute to the Kelvin scale—was once a full-blown home appliance manufacturer, founded in 1914 and based in Detroit. After a 1937 odd-couple merger with Nash Motors, the company (then the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation) turned over all of its manufacturing facilities to the war effort. Home appliance manufacturing didn't resume until 1945.
The company was once famed for its innovative household refrigerators and freezers, including the first-ever side-by-side refrigerator: the delightfully '50s "Foodarama."
Why it went away: The brand was eventually acquired by the American Motors Corporation and then White Consolidated Goods, before ending up with the Swedes at Electrolux in the early 1980s. Today, Kelvinator has withdrawn from the consumer market entirely, instead producing a small range of commercial fridges and freezers.
Why we loved it: Back when stoves were called "fireless cookers" (circa 1912), another American appliance company, Chambers, was founded in Shelbyville, Indiana. Chambers stoves were designed with heavily insulated oven cavities, which allowed them to cook using retained heat. Until the 1960s, all Chambers models were built around this original idea, based on a design penned by John Chambers himself.
Why it went away: After it was first sold in the early 1950s, the company passed through a succession of owners. It continued to produce consumer appliances until the early 1990s, when it finally closed up shop for good. And that's a damn shame, in our opinion.
Fun fact: Well-preserved and carefully restored Chambers ovens still fetch astonishingly high prices on the used market. In part, that's due to their excellent cooking properties, and in part it's down to increased recognition after one was included on the set of Rachael Ray's popular cooking show.
Why we loved it: Caloric Corporation existed as the Klein Stove Company out of Philadelphia from 1883, until the Caloric brand was introduced in 1903. The company gained fame in the 1950s and 60s for offering a full line of matching kitchen appliances, designed to be purchased as a set for upscale new homes.
Why it went away: The business was acquired by Raytheon in 1967, then eventually sold to Maytag—now Whirlpool—in 2002. There's some chance this dead brand may rise again, zombielike. Whirlpool sold the brand to JMM Lee Properties in 2011, which subsequently announced that new Caloric-branded appliances will hit the market in the near future.
Why we loved it: Nowadays Norge is probably best known for its iconic wartime advertising copy, but the Norge brand has been around since the early 1940s, when it made home appliances... and guns. That's right, while Norge appliances were considered solid and reliable, so were Norge's bullets, gun turrets, and airplane parts, which the company manufactured during the war.
Why it went away: Though originally a division of BorgWarner—an auto parts supplier—the business was purchased by Magic Chef in 1974, then absorbed by Maytag in 1986. The brand eventually fell under the Whirlpool umbrella in 2005, where it remains collecting dust to this day.
Fun fact: Dan Aykroyd played a Norge repairman in this very, very dated SNL sketch.
Are there any brands you miss from days gone by? Sound off in the comments!