In-Sink-Erator History

4700 21st Street
Racine, Wisconsin 53406
United States

Telephone: (262) 554-5432
Toll Free: 800-558-5712
Fax: (262) 554-5712

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Emerson Electric Company
Incorporated: 1938 as In-Sink-Erator Manufacturing Company
Employees: 1,000 (est.)
Sales: $341 million (2003 est.)
NAIC: 335228 Other Household Appliance Manufactur- ing; 333120 Construction Machinery Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

Our sales force has always been aimed at the customer and our management team has always been focused on the industry because we think it's the right thing to do. We don't want to just look at ways of making more disposers--we want to help make the industry a better place. That commitment has been evident during our entire history.

Key Dates:

John W. Hammes invents the first food waste disposer in his basement workshop.
Hammes obtains a U.S. patent for his Garbage Disposal Device.
Hammes establishes the In-Sink-Erator Manufacturing Company.
Company focuses on making defense parts for the war effort.
Facing national competition, the company adds a direct sales force.
In-Sink-Erator secures Sears Roebuck as a client and becomes the world's top food disposal manufacturer.
Emerson Electric acquires In-Sink-Erator.
In-Sink-Erator acquires H&H Precision Products and enters the hot water dispenser market.
In-Sink-Erator accounts for half of all food disposer units sold in the United States.

1980s:In-Sink-Erator begins marketing dishwashers.
The company produces its 50 millionth food waste disposer.
Annual sales reach an estimated $341 million and the company produces about 75 percent of all food disposers worldwide.

Company History:

Racine, Wisconsin-based In-Sink-Erator is the world's largest manufacturer of food waste disposal units and hot water dispensers. The company has a sales and service presence in more than 80 countries, and produces millions of disposal units every year. In-Sink-Erator produces eight models of food disposal units, which range from horsepower to 1 horsepower and are priced from $50 to $250. In-Sink-Erator products are available through wholesalers as well as such retail outlets as Ace, Tru Serv, The Home Depot, Lowe's, and Menard's.

1930s Origins

In-Sink-Erator originated from an innovative approach to a classic inconvenience. In 1927, John W. Hammes invented the first food waste disposer in his basement workshop. As the story goes, Hammes was inspired to create a more convenient way to dispose of food waste after he saw his wife wrapping food scraps in newspaper before throwing them into the waste can. Standing over the sink, he envisioned a means of shredding food scraps into tiny pieces, so that they could be carried away through the drain.

Born in Iowa in 1895, Hammes worked as a farmer and then a carpenter before becoming a building contractor in Racine, Wisconsin. He oversaw new construction as well as projects to transform old churches, factories, and other buildings into modern retail stores and apartment buildings. At one point, some 85 percent of Racine's apartment construction was attributed to Hammes. Hammes applied for his architect's license from the state of Wisconsin in 1931 and served as Racine's consulting architect from 1933 to 1935. Thus, before his emergence as an appliance industry pioneer, Hammes had already made a significant impact on the city of Racine.

After producing an initial food disposal unit in his basement, Hammes made arrangements with the owner of a local machine shop to use the facilities for 25 cents an hour, so that he could produce decent prototypes. According to an article in the August 7, 1955, Racine Sunday Bulletin: "The owner asked if he knew how to run metal working machines, and without a moment's hesitation, Hammes replied yes. As soon as the owner left the room, John began trying different levers and dials. In just a few minutes, he knew how to run a lathe."

Eleven years of testing and development followed the creation of Hammes' initial disposal unit. According to the same Racine Sunday Bulletin article: "As the years went on, he made different models and tried them out in his own kitchen sink. The house in which they were living at this time had a cesspool in the back yard, and John would put on his hip boots and wade in the ground waste to check the size of the particles after grinding in the hand-made disposer." On August 27, 1935, Hammes obtained U.S. Patent No. 2,012,686 for his Garbage Disposal Device.

Eventually, Hammes was ready to introduce his food disposer to the general public. Along with his two sons, Quinten and Ever, Hammes established the In-Sink-Erator Manufacturing Company in 1938. The company set up shop in a small facility on Clark Street and produced 52 disposal units during its first year. From the very start, the new company was challenged to convince cities and towns that its product would not cause problems for municipal sewer systems. In fact, many communities banned the device until its impact on sewage systems could be determined.

In-Sink-Erator's growth was gradual during the 1940s due to the initial slow rate of disposal adoption, the fact that the company could not advertise because a significant share of its resources were devoted to capital expenditures, and the eruption of World War II. Aside from manufacturing disposal units for hospital ships, In-Sink-Erator's attention was focused on making defense parts during the war years.

Following the war, In-Sink-Erator was able to resume consumer sales of food disposal units. As the economy boomed, so did the company's success. As an early write-up explained, "progress was made almost immediately. Many cities modified their codes. In addition, others passed ordinances requiring disposers, since in their research, these communities found the disposer to be of great help in getting rid of garbage at lower cost and with improved sanitation."

Postwar Development

When electric motors were difficult to find during the mid-1940s, due to the war effort, In-Sink-Erator decided to manufacture its own. Previously, the company had purchased and modified motors from another manufacturer. Eugene Wieczorek, who joined the company as a teenager in 1941 and later became vice-president of advanced planning, bet John Hammes $1 that he could design a better motor in-house. He won the bet, and the company soon gained the ability to make close-coupled motors for its own use and for other companies. In fact, In-Sink-Erator once supplied fractional horsepower motors used in some of the earliest garage door openers. However, the company later decided to concentrate its efforts within the plumbing field. In-Sink-Erator soon added an automatic reverse feature to its disposals, which served to make them last longer.

By the late 1940s, Hammes' idea had caught the attention of other manufacturers. By this time, 18 other firms were producing food disposal units. These competitors sought to capture a share of a convenience appliance market that was burgeoning along with the growing number of women in the work force. In-Sink-Erator responded with its own marketing efforts, including a fleet of pink station wagons that were piloted by the company's salespeople. The wagons made it possible for reps to tote 45-pound disposal units with them as they made calls on plumbers and plumbing inspectors in various cities.

An important differentiating factor for In-Sink-Erator was the company's distribution channel. Unlike competitors, which sold disposal units to appliance dealers, In-Sink-Erator sold its products exclusively through plumbing contractors--a point that was emphasized on the exterior of its pink wagons. "Casting our lot with the plumbers was a turning point," explained long-time Sales and Marketing Vice-President Robert M. Cox in In-Sink-Erator: The First 50 Years. He noted, "Our consistent relationship with the plumber over the years has been, in my mind, the single key to our being able to outdistance our competitors."

In-Sink-Erator started the 1950s by moving into a new, larger facility. The additional capacity was needed as the company created a commercial division to serve restaurants, as well as such institutions as hospitals. As In-Sink-Erator expanded during the 1950s, it faced growing national competition from the likes of Whirlpool, General Electric, Waste King, and KitchenAid. In order to compete, the company added a direct sales force in 1952 and formed a network of authorized independent service representatives in 1954.

Just as his company was poised for explosive growth, John Hammes died in 1953, at the age of 57. It was around this time that In-Sink-Erator began to struggle with several quality problems as well as the growing costs of production. Rather than risk everything John Hammes had built, measures were quickly taken to turn things around. Ev Hammes challenged the company to produce a new disposer of high quality that would cost less to make. The result was In-Sink-Erator's Model 77 disposer, the first in the industry to include a five-year parts warranty.

Along with the development of new products, the company continued to advance on the marketing front through national advertisements. The first In-Sink-Erator print ad campaign aimed at the consumer marketplace began in 1956. Ads included the tag line, "Darling, you're much too nice to be a garbage collector," and appeared in such national magazines as Vogue. On the television front, In-Sink-Erator reached out to the nation with commercials featuring George Burns and Doris Day.

Explosive Growth and Expansion in the 1960s

The 1960s were a time of remarkable growth for the food disposal industry in general, and In-Sink-Erator in particular. By 1960 the industry was selling approximately 750,000 units annually. That year, some 75 communities required disposers nationwide, including Beverly Hills, California; Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Detroit; and St. Paul, Minnesota. Amidst this growing rate of adoption, In-Sink-Erator made it more convenient to install or replace its disposers. The company's Quick Lock mounting system was introduced in 1960 and quickly became a standard feature in future models, giving the company a design edge over its competitors.

The industry's rapid growth led to physical expansion at In-Sink-Erator, which again moved to larger facilities in Racine. In 1963, In-Sink-Erator experienced its second unexpected leadership loss in ten years when President Quinten A. Hammes died. Hammes and his father were remembered for their pioneering roles within the industry. Interestingly, in 1963 In-Sink-Erator discovered that one of the original 52 disposal units produced by John Hammes in 1938 was still in working condition.

During the second half of the 1960s, the company was led by Chairman Ever J. Hammes and President George E. Shoup. In 1966, the company secured a major client when it began producing Kenmore disposal units for Sears Roebuck and Company. The deal made In-Sink-Erator the world's top food disposal manufacturer, accounting for one of every three units produced. Moreover, as In-Sink-Erator grew, the company gained greater control over the quality and availability of parts needed to manufacture its disposers. Following the decision to manufacture its own motors during the 1940s, In-Sink-Erator introduced a stamping operation in 1966, and added aluminum die casting capabilities in 1969.

A defining moment in In-Sink-Erator history took place in 1968, when Emerson Electric acquired the company. A Fortune 500 company, St. Louis-based Emerson was a world leader in the areas of appliances and tools; electronics and communications; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; industrial automation; and process control.

Amidst continued growth in the industry, In-Sink-Erator developed its Badger line of disposal units in 1969. This inexpensive, reliable product line was targeted at the new residential construction market and was made possible by capital investment in new tooling and manufacturing equipment.

Market Leader: 1970-90s

As part of Emerson Electric, In-Sink-Erator saw its sales double from 1968 to 1973. That year, the company acquired H&H Precision Products and entered the hot water dispenser market. In addition, it also began manufacturing trash compactors. By the early 1970s, In-Sink-Erator enjoyed a strong market for food disposers. In 1972 alone, 2.7 million units were sold by the industry, with an estimated 30 million units in place throughout the United States.

In 1972, an important leadership change took place when John A. Rishel was named president of In-Sink-Erator. A long-time appliance industry executive, Rishel remarked on the reason for In-Sink-Erator's success in a profile of Racine's companies: "This company has been uncommonly successful because of its people," he explained, adding, "Nowhere else have I ever seen such teamwork, craftsmanship, care, sales expertise, service and follow-through. It has built an industry as well as a company."

In 1974, In-Sink-Erator captured one-third of the market and strengthened its leading position among disposer manufacturers. The following year, company sales doubled from 1973 levels, and within three years In-Sink-Erator models accounted for half of all food disposer units sold in the United States. As of 1978, the company employed approximately 800 workers and had expanded its manufacturing plant to cover 388,000 square feet.

By the 1980s, the food disposal appliance industry had evolved considerably over previous decades. Advancements in technology enabled manufacturers to produce units that were more reliable and efficient, quieter, and more affordable. In addition, food disposers were achieving international adoption at an increasing rate. At In-Sink-Erator, product evolution was evident in the 1980 introduction of the company's Classic model, which it dubbed "a super premium food waste disposer." By 1986, In-Sink-Erator achieved an enviably low product failure rate. Among the company's disposals that were under warranty, failures occurred at a rate of only 0.8 per 1,000. Following its success with food disposers and trash compactors, In-Sink-Erator also began marketing dishwashers during the 1980s.

During this time, In-Sink-Erator formed a relationship with home improvement retailer Lowe's and thereby increased its retail presence. As the decade unfolded, the company also began forging relationships with wholesale distributors and was able to achieve strong increases in both sales and market share. By In-Sink-Erator's 50th anniversary in 1988, an estimated 75 percent of all contractors included garbage disposals in new residential homes. By this time, D.L. Seals had been named president of In-Sink-Erator.

Although the company did not release sales figures, industry observers in the early 1990s estimated that the company's revenues totaled about $200 million. A major development occurred in 1993, when the company produced its 50-millionth food waste disposer. In honor of the milestone, a ceremony was held and the unit was put on permanent display in the company's lobby.

It also was in 1993 that In-Sink-Erator was preparing to release a computer-controlled home water purification system called Aquabest, marking its first new product introduction in about 15 years. Development of the new system, which carried a retail price tag of $700, involved the acquisition of 12 patents, and cost millions of research dollars, had begun in 1989.

In-Sink-Erator scored a major win on the retail front when it secured The Home Depot as a client. During the 1990s, some 80 communities throughout the United States made food waste disposers mandatory. In addition, more than 80 countries had adopted the appliances, as foreign markets discovered the environmental advantages of food waste disposal.

2000 and Beyond

In late 2000, In-Sink-Erator began test piloting an Internet procurement system with some of its distributors, with a goal of launching it in early 2001. The e-commerce system was in addition to electronic data interchange (EDI), which In-Sink-Erator had used for some time. The new Web-based system gave distributors the ability to place and check on the status of orders, review product specifications, and more.

As of the early 2000s, In-Sink-Erator continued to place a premium on its workers. In addition to cross-training them to keep their work as interesting as possible, the company also offered tuition reimbursement for those wishing to pursue college or vocational courses. In addition, In-Sink-Erator developed its Skills Center, which offered courses that sought to expand employees' knowledge and increase their ability to gain promotions. Among the courses offered at the center were blueprint reading and computer systems and software, as well as such fundamentals as mathematics.

The company also carried on the tradition of quality established by John Hammes many years before. In the November/December 2000 issue of ASA News, In-Sink-Erator Marketing Communications Manager Jim Magruder said: "We subject our disposers to conditions they'll never see in a lifetime of use. We run diluted acid through them for days at a time to measure corrosion, and we constantly turn them on and off to make sure the motors work properly and don't burn out. We also challenge their grinding capability with large quantities of frozen steak bones and wood cubes. If a unit doesn't pass the test, we investigate to determine the problem and then immediately make necessary design or production adjustments."

According to independent reports, by 2001 In-Sink-Erator had estimated annual sales of $341 million and produced about 75 percent of all food disposers worldwide. In addition to its own branded line of appliances, the firm produced disposers that were marketed under other manufacturers' names. Heading into the mid-2000s, Jerry Ryder was In-Sink-Erator's president. The company was well-positioned for growth, with a market presence in 80 countries and subsidiaries in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Principal Competitors: Anaheim Manufacturing Company; General Electric Company.

Further Reading:

  • Fauber, John, "Tapping a Market: Firm Here Develops Water Purifier," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 7, 1993.
  • In-Sink-Erator: 50 Years of Quality, Racine, Wisc.: In-Sink-Erator, 1988.
  • "In-Sink-Erator Manufacturing Co.," Racine Sunday Bulletin, August 7, 1955, p. 20.
  • "In-Sink-Erator Milestone. 50 Million," Racine Journal Times, July 28, 1993.
  • In-Sink-Erator: The First 50 Years, Racine, Wisc.: In-Sink-Erator, 1988.
  • "John W. Hammes," Southeastern Wisconsin: Old Milwaukee County, Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1932.
  • Martin, Mary Jo, "In-Sink-Erator," ASA News, November/December 2000.
  • Pfankuchen, David, "Traced By Head of Firm," Racine Journal Times, August 30, 1973, p. D2.
  • The In-Sink-Erator Story, Racine, Wisc.: In-Sink-Erator, 1978.
  • Wicklund, Pete, "Clean Living," Racine Journal Times, October 22, 2001, p. B2.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 66. St. James Press, 2004.