100 years of Whirlpool

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The Whirlpool Corporation will be celebrating its centenary on 11 November 2011. Anna Ryland spoke to Juliana Saldo, Whirlpool brand marketing manager, about the most significant developments in the company’s history, its guiding principles and most recent achievements that have made Whirlpool the global domestic appliance leader.

When Lou and Fred Upton founded the Upton Machine Company in Benton Harbour, Michigan, in 1911 they couldn’t have imagined that they were laying the foundations of a global industrial giant. Borrowing much needed capital, they set about producing electric, motor-driven wringer washers and hoped for the best.

Today Whirlpool Corporation is the world’s number one white goods manufacturer, with a workforce of 71,000, operating in 170 countries worldwide. The company’s portfolio embraces 11 brand names (including the leading brands of Whirlpool, Maytag and KitchenAid). With turnover of 18.4 billion US dollars, annual sales of 54 million units and 67 factories and research and development centres across the globe, Whirlpool is one of the best known names in the world.

Product innovation has always been one of the leading principles of the company’s development. Today innovation accounts for 20% of Whirlpool’s European turnover. The company has invested over 1.1 billion dollars in research and development and introduced a raft of new technology, design and performance innovations. Many of its products have become categories in their own right.

Innovation has been incorporated into the ‘three pillars’ of the Whirlpool brand, explains Julian Saldo, Whirlpool brand marketing manager. They include:

1.       Leading edge design;

2.       Intuitive functionality;

3.       Outstanding performance while saving resources, with 6th Sense technology being instrumental in achieving this. 

To maintain its leadership in technology and product innovation, Whirlpool created five design studios on four continents; in USA, Mexico, Italy, China and India that employ 160 people.

The European Global Design Studio, situated near Milan is the hub of the Whirlpool design world. It analyses and explores future design trends and employs experts in a variety of fields from designers and ergonomists to anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists. They monitor the latest social trends and create new product and technological solutions to improve everyday lives of consumers. “They invite consumers to use the appliances and observe how they interact with them, and apply these insights to product design,” explains Juliana Saldo. “Other Whirlpool design centres develop products that match local requirements and specifications that differ greatly depending on local habits, weather and customs. For example, only in the UK do customers still demand double ovens and under counter fridges and freezers.”

Intelligent kitchen

Whirlpool’s GreenKitchen 2.0 concept is one of the best known forward-looking projects in progress, with its production scheduled to begin in 2012. GreenKitchen 2.0 uses the best in class technology to deliver an integrated eco-system that combines single appliances in a synergetic way in order to save water, heat and electricity by recycling the resources. The integrated use of appliances results in energy savings of up to 70%. The Green Kitchen technology allows integration of appliances into the forthcoming smart grid system.

“The huge technological leap of GreenKitchen is interconnectivity of the appliances and sharing of resources. The products on their own deliver significant water and energy savings but when they are connected they utilise the resources with great efficiency. For example the dishwasher saves the water from the last rinse for the pre-rinse of the next wash etc,” explains Juliana Saldo.

The UK market

In the UK, Whirlpool caters for the diverse needs of different customer markets with its four brands – Ignis, Whirlpool, Maytag and KitchenAid. Each of them has a distinctive role in the company’s portfolio and receives a varying level of marketing support.

Ignis is an entry level brand which is used in such distribution channels as cash & carry, DIY stores and contract sector. The company doesn’t support it with advertising.

The Whirlpool brand is the main focus of company’s activities. It is a mass market brand, present in all product platforms of domestic appliances.

Maytag is the company’s premium brand, focused on cooling, laundry and dishwashing. “The company is expanding Maytag’s product ranges and product specification to make the Maytag brand more competitive. We have to make sure that the brand has a distinctive market positioning that doesn’t clash with the Whirlpool brand. For example, this year we launched a Maytag dishwasher with the record-breaking best water consumption of 6 litres,” says Juliana Saldo. 

The Amana brand has been discontinued but some of the Maytag SBSs have design features similar to that of Amana, such as black glass with silver trims.

KitchenAid is a super-premium brand. Its domestic appliances and small kitchen appliances have premium quality and are designed for experienced cooks who wish to achieve professional results at home.

Social responsibilities     

In its 100th year, Whirlpool Corporation is also celebrating its ongoing social responsibilities. “In its second century, Whirlpool will continue to be at the forefront of corporate social responsibility,” said Jeff M Fettig, Whirlpool chairman and chief executive. The company has a well-established history of supporting community development efforts and diversity networks, and it plans to increase these efforts in the future.

One of the best known of these is its partnership with Habitat for Humanity International, in which Whirlpool’s employees from all over the world have helped provide affordable housing to more than 55,000 families around the world, donated more than 110,000 appliances and volunteered thousands of hours since 1999. Starting in 2011, Whirlpool will support every Habitat for Humanity home built around the globe.  “This type of activity is an essential part of Whirlpool Corporation’s character, which has been and will remain crucial to its success,” said Mr Fettig.

Whirlpool’s story

1911: Upton Machine Company is founded by Lou and Fred Upton in Benton Harbour, Michigan

1929: Upton Machine Company merged with the Nineteen Hundred Washer Company to become the Nineteen Hundred Corporation

1941: Nineteen Hundred Corporation becomes the world’s number one washing machine manufacturer

1948: The Nineteen Hundred Corporation’s automatic washers are sold with the Whirlpool trademark signifying spin washing

1950: Nineteen Hundred Corporation becomes Whirlpool

1956: Whirlpool acquires the KitchenAid brand

1970: Whirlpool begins research into eco efficiency

1989: Whirlpool forms partnership with Philips in Europe

1991: Whirlpool becomes the number one home appliance manufacturer in the USA

1993: Philips Whirlpool brand becomes Whirlpool

1998: 6th Sense technology introduced on washing machines

1999: Whirlpool begins its support for Habitat for Humanity and has since made donations of over $34 million to support the charity’s global mission to eliminate housing poverty

2003: Whirlpool becomes first major appliance manufacturer to ratify the Kyoto Protocol

2006: Whirlpool acquires the Maytag brand

2012: Scheduled production of the Green Kitchen

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