Address to Proctor Organization in 1945 by Joseph W. Myers, Vice President for Research & Development:
History & Evolution Of Electrical Division & Product Development
The psychologists say it is necessary for every individual to have a clear conception of who he is and the steps that brought him to where he finds himself; for it is only by having a thoroughly objective picture of his past that he can properly orient himself to the future and make the development of his life a smooth flowing stream that is constantly adding to itself and growing in power. Since the development of a Corporation is only the development of a larger organization of life, consisting of numerous individuals, it seems logical to expect that the same laws might hold.
We are all members of the Proctor Electric Organization, and while some of us have within us the knowledge of the development of this organization, some of us are newcomers, and it seems worthwhile to review the development of our business to its present position so that we will not run into individuals who know more about our business than we do.
I have been particularly concerned with the development of the ideas that from year to year crystallize into our various models of Irons, Toaster, etc., and I will try to show you the evolution of these ideas. Being connected with the Research Dept. I am sometimes appalled at the money we spend, with apparently nothing much to show for it; we have nothing real objective that looks as though it could have conceivably cost the money and effort which is reported to have gone into it. All we have is a little different opinion of how we ought to do something differently than it has been done in the past, and an idea that is a little more clear cut than when we started out to work on it.
Since my own experience goes back longest with the flatiron, you may be interested in following through the evolution of our iron: --
About 1912, in Jackson, Mich., when I was 14 years old, I read an advertisement in the local paper offering an electric iron for $2.98; that was a special being offered by a local furniture store. Being interested in electricity, I persuaded my mother that she ought to have one. It was a Dover iron, and I have it here in my hand. It looked pretty swell and had a plain unplated iron shoe, with a nickel plated shell. You will also note it has a permanently attached cord. The iron did a wonderful job compared with the pair of sadirons which mother heated on the gas stove, but it would burn off its cord which went directly inside the iron shell to the terminals.
I, of course, was the repairman, and this gave me a chance to study the interior. The iron would also get too hot if used on light work, and it was necessary to turn it off by using the wall switch or the switch at the lamp socket. This seemed to me, as a budding inventory, something that needed improving, so about (4) years later I undertook the job of giving it an automatic heat control. I did make a control that worked just well enough to encourage me but not well enough to be worth anything. This you can calculate as about (30) years ago.
After graduating from High School I went into the machine business and did all right until the depression of 1921 when I found myself looking for a new start. I then decided that I wanted to be a professional inventor and decided to give up the machine and tool business in which I had been active.
We then turned to the old automatic iron idea. After sticking with the problem several years, we had a design evolved which I show you here as step #2. This was 1924, and I built (100) of these irons, working alone in the corner of a machine shop. The shell and covers were purchased from the Hotpoint Service Department.
You will be interested in knowing of my merchandising efforts: --
I wrote to Graybar Co., New York, telling them what I had, and they wrote back that they were not interested since they had never had any call for an automatic flatiron and doubted its saleability. Accordingly, I took the irons to the County Fair and sold them at $5.00 and your old iron. I, of course, took the name and address of each buyer for I was trying to get a field test, rather than make any money, as the irons had cost me about $20 each in time and money. I retained about a dozen and tried to interest some of the established iron producers in my patents -- Hotpoint, American Beauty, Chicago Flexible Shaft, Landers; all were tried and turned me down with one story or another. Hotpoint did not think the industry was ready for an automatic iron; they had most of the iron business anyway, and feared service trouble. American Beauty said they had been trying to make an automatic iron for 25 years, and if it were possible, they would certainly have succeeded. Landers said that since the iron only operated on alternating current, and not also on direct, it was not a universal item and they feared trouble. And so it went.
By this time, my field test was about a year old, and the irons were standing up perfectly; some in commercial laundries. In desperation, I went to a small company in Cleveland known as the Liberty Gauge & Instrument Co. This firm was started during the last war when you will recall "Liberty" was so popular; it was applied to Hamburg Steak and Sauerkraut, to get rid of the German flavor.
Liberty Gauge & Instrument Co. were known as the World's largest exclusive manufacturers of Hotplates, and they had quite a nice line. Here we found some interest; and after investigating our field test, they decided to go ahead with our design.
Westinghouse, by the way, had just come out with their automatic iron with the million dollar thermostat; the million dollars was all in the mind of their advertising department, but their advertising certainly helped to make people want automatic temperature control. You will recall the Westinghouse iron was not adjustable as to temperature but was a simple "on - off" proposition, while our iron was adjustable by the user. This iron thus became the first practical adjustable automatic iron on the market. I say "practical" because years before, Dover had put out an adjustable iron called the Dover-A-Besto; the thermostat, however, would soon go out of commission and they withdrew it from the market.
This brings us to 1926 - 1929, with the Liberty iron steadily growing in popularity.
So far, I have said nothing of Proctor, but have given you the evolution of the adjustable automatic iron from a schoolboy's mind to a commercial success. It took 10 years to accomplish.
In Philadelphia, we find the old established concern of Proctor & Schwartz, Inc., the world's largest makers of drying machine, a textile machinery department over 100 years old, and a progressive management seeking further expansion and stabilization of the business through a consumer's goods department.
Here Mr. A.O. Hurxthal, Vice President in Charge of Engineering, and his brother, Fred E. Hurxthal, had been experimenting on a toaster that would control the color of a piece of toast automatically. They first considered a selenium light cell but soon gave this up and discovered that if you could take the temperature of the surface of a piece of bread, you could predetermine its color. With this discovery, they built a working model that evolved to the single slice horizontal toaster which I show you here as #1. [Click here to see the probable toaster he is referring to in his speech, the Proctor Model 1410 -ed.]
Proctor & Schwartz, Inc. got their field trial at the Sesquicentennial in 1926, while you will recall the flatiron was started in a more humble way at the Jackson County Fair. This trial convinced the management that they had a fine thing, but they were not certain as to how to proceed to market it since all the Corporation's previous experience had been in selling producers goods in the form of machinery. A survey of their problem led the management to a point where it was decided two things were needed: first, men that had made a success in the small appliance business and, second, some other appliance that appeared to have a good future and which could be sold along with the toaster.
This decision led to the purchase of the Liberty Gauge & Instrument Co. in 1929 and moved it to Philadelphia. This was the first use of the name "Proctor" on a line of appliances offered to the public, but you see the roots of the business go back into almost ancient history.
The Proctor line in 1930 consisted of a proven and established adjustable automatic iron, a new smartly styled horizontal automatic toaster using the exclusive new bread sensitive thermostat, and a new automatic waffle iron that signaled when the waffles were done and turned off the current. The waffle iron was also a Hurxthal invention that followed the development of the toaster and was a logical outcome of the color temperature relationship. There was also a line of hotplates and a glow heater.
Now you may remember that 1931 and 1932 were not good years to start new lines, and we all had a hell of a time getting through the early 30's and still keep the Proctor appliances before the public.
We made iron history in a quiet way by introducing the first 1000 watt iron and by going back to first principles and permanently attaching the cord to the iron to eliminate the constant plug troubles. You will see we did not, however, make the mistake Dover had 15 years before by bringing the cord inside the hot iron shell, and they thought the proper answer was to use an attachment plug.
We brought out an electric radiator which, while excellent, would not sell. We brought out a new turnover type toaster thus slowly building up the Proctor name when the going was very tough for everyone.
Then, in 1935 we came out with the Snapstand iron with the cork handle, and a similar iron without the stand. These models were the first to employ the dreadnaught unit and had a new thermostat and all new tooling. We now began to make real headway since competitive tests by various laboratories showed we had a well designed, solidly grounded product that had many points of superiority.
In 1937 we came out with the oval roaster, introducing the broiler in the lid, and also supporting of the lid on a hinge.
The 1940 we introduced our first Never-Lift model, with general streamlined appearance, and this was an instant success.
In the meantime, the toaster line was augmented with a well type model in 1937 which has been improved to the current models by gradual changes, culminating in the addition of the exclusive crisper feature.
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