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Frigidaire Historical Collection

Identifier: MS-262

Scope and Content

The records in the Frigidaire Collection contain a wide assortment of materials concerning the activities of Frigidaire Corporation in the Dayton area.

Series I, History of Frigidaire, includes materials pertaining to the history of Frigidaire Corporation. Contains the Register of Frigidaire Collection at the General Motors Institute in Flint, MI (1980) and an original manuscript of the History of Frigidaire (1963-1964) Also contains various pamphlets, speeches, exhibits, and correspondence concerning the history of the company.

Series II, Manuals and Handbooks, includes repair manuals and handbooks for various Frigidaire appliances (1930s-1950s). Also contains an executive training manual (1934) and newsletters.

Series III, Product Literature, includes instruction manuals and sales literature for various Frigidaire appliances (1950s-1970s).

Series IV, Promotional Materials, includes mostly press kits, which contain photographs and press releases (1950s-1970s). Also contains General Motors yearly automobile series brochures (1965-1979).

Series V, Company Publications, includes educational aids published by General Motors Institute (1940s-1970s) and employee relations materials (1950s-1960s). Also contains issues of The Frigidairian (1967-1978), On the Line With the Frigidairian (1977-1978), and other miscellaneous publications.

Series VI, Photographic Materials, includes photographs, negatives, and slides of Frigidaire executives, plant interiors and exteriors, appliances, and other subjects (1950s-1970s).

Series VII, Clippings, includes magazine articles that have used Frigidaire appliances as displays in (1959-1970). Also contains newspaper clippings pertaining to Frigidaire historical events.

Series VIII, Ephemera, contains a drawing of a kitchen (1960s) as well as a plaque for the 50th anniversary of Frigidaire, and the song "Men of Frigidaire." This series also contains various Frigidaire logos.

Series IX, Scrapbooks, includes Preliminary Report on Promotional Film "Living Unlimited" (1957), 3 editions of Selling Frigidaire Through Publicity (1970s), and a scrapbook about the 1964 Frigidaire Open House.

Series X, Audiovisual, includes a large collection of audio tapes and more than 100 films. The audio tapes cover interviews, promotions, and newscasts concerning the Union-Frigidaire Agreement and other issues (1970s). The series also contains two television newscasts concerning the Union-Frigidaire Agreement (1972). Please note, the films are in 16 mm format and are not available for viewing in the Reading Room, unless a digital mp4 file in the E-Archives is noted in the box and folder list. Please contact an archivist for more information.


  • Creation: 1913 - 1998


Restrictions on Access

There are no restrictions on accessing material in this collection, however, due to preservation concerns, original audio, video, and film formats cannot be played in the reading room. Patrons may have access to digital reference copies. Items without reference copies can be digitized at the request of a patron for the cost of creating a digital copy. Please provide us at least two weeks advance notice if you would like to request an audio or video reference copy. Call (937) 775-2092 or e-mail us at Use of digitized content is subject to conditions governing use.

Restrictions on Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

History of Frigidaire

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.


17.1 linear feet

1.46 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



Collection contains a wide assortment of materials concerning the activities of the Frigidaire Corporation in the Dayton area. Included are materials pertaining to the history of Frigidaire, product manuals and literature, promotional materials, company publications, photographs of executives, plants, and products, clippings, scrapbooks, audio tapes, and films.

Statement of Arrangement

The collection is arranged into ten series.

  1. SERIES I: History of Frigidaire
  2. SERIES II: Manuals and Handbooks
  3. SERIES III: Product Literature
  4. SERIES IV: Promotional Materials
  5. SERIES V: Company Publications
  6. SERIES VI: Photographic Materials
  7. SERIES VII: Clippings
  8. SERIES VIII: Ephemera
  9. SERIES IX: Scrapbooks
  10. SERIES X: Audiovisual

Acquisition Information

The Frigidaire Collection was accessioned into Dunbar Library's Special Collections and Archives in December 1991. The collection was donated by the Montgomery County Historical Society. An addition of advertising literature, film, newsclippings, photographs, correspondence and building plans was received in Feb. 2005 by Gailard "Red" Ketchum, a long time employee at Frigidaire.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital mp4 files of select 16mm films in Series X and a VHS tape are available in the E-Archives (ms262_e0001 to 262_e0005).

Related Material

MS-406 Frigidaire TOM (Tired Old Men) Club Collection

Separated Materials

Original films are located off-site.

Guide to the Frigidaire Historical Collection (MS-262)
Finding aid prepared by Kenton Jaehnig, 1995
2017 August
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 1997: Additions processed by John Sanford.
  • 2005: Additions processed by Sherri Derringer and Garret B. Kremer-Wright.
  • 2012: Additions processed by Patricia A. McEldowney.
  • 2017 August: Finding aid revised according to DACS
  • 2019 June: S-VHS tapes digitized to mp4 files for access.
  • 2023 November: Reintegrated relevant S-VHS tapes from the old Films Database into MS-262; updated description and arrangement for Audiovisual series; revised/corrected extent for overall collection.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Special Collections and Archives
3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy
Dayton OH 45435-0001 USA