Maytag Corporation History

403 West Fourth Street North
Newton, Iowa 50208

Telephone: (515) 792-7000
Fax: (515) 791-8793

Public Company
Incorporated: 1925 as Maytag Company
Employees: 20,464
Sales: $3.00 billion (1996)
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 3581 Automatic Vending Machines; 3582 Commercial Laundry, Dry Cleaning & Pressing Machines; 3631 Household Cooking Equipment; 3632 Household Refrigerators & Home & Farm Freezers; 3633 Household Laundry Equipment; 3635 Household Vacuum Cleaners; 3639 Household Appliances, Not Elsewhere Classified

Company Perspectives:

Maytag Corporation designs, builds, and markets products that make life easier, simpler, and more convenient. With a heritage of more than 100 years and a name synonymous with dependability, Maytag has evolved into a corporation built on great brands, great products, great distribution, and strong financial discipline. Maytag is a leading producer of premium brand major appliances, commercial and coin-operated laundry equipment, floor care products, and soft-drink vending machines. The corporation's businesses are linked through a strategy based on brand strength, product innovation, and dependability in meeting consumer needs.

Company History:

Maytag Corporation is one of the leading appliance manufacturers in the United States. It sells washers, dryers, ovens, refrigerators, and dishwashers under both premium brands (Maytag and Jenn-Air) and mid-to-lower price value brands (Magic Chef and Admiral). The Maytag brand is also used on coin-operated and commercial laundry equipment. The company also sells Hoover vacuum cleaners and other floor-care products in North America; Dixie-Narco vending machines and glass-front coolers; and commercial ovens, fryers, and charbroilers for the food service industry under the Blodgett Ovens, Pitco Frialator, MagiKitch'n, and Blodgett-Combi Ovens brands. More than 90 percent of Maytag's revenues are derived in North America; Maytag International is the company's export arm, while a joint venture produces the RSD brand washing machine in China. Maytag's reputation rests on the dependability of its machines, and the Maytag "lonely repairman"--featured in company advertising since 1957--has become an American icon.

Dependability Became Company Watchword Early On

Maytag Company was started by Frederick Louis Maytag and three partners in 1893 to produce threshing-machine band cutters and self-feeder attachments. The company soon began to produce other pieces of farm machinery, not all of it top quality: its corn husker, called the Success, caused the partners many problems because of its poor quality, and farmers often called Maytag out to their fields to fix the Success. When Maytag bought out his partners in 1907, he had learned his lesson; a Maytag product would always be dependable.

Maytag built his first washer in 1907, to bring his agricultural-equipment company through the slow-selling season as well as to fill a need for home-use washing machines. Home washing machines were already on the market, but Maytag wanted to make them more efficient. His first washer, called the Pastime, revolutionized washing. It had a cypress tub with a hand crank that forced the clothes through the water and against corrugated sides. The washer was a hit, and Maytag continued to improve on it. In 1911 he brought out the first electric washing machine, and in 1914 he introduced the gas-engine Multi-Motor for customers without access to electricity. The first aluminum washer tub was brought out in 1919, and the Gyrofoam, the first washer to clean with only water action, rather than friction, entered the marketplace in 1922. This revolutionary washer was the first with an agitator at the bottom of the tub instead of the top. This change allowed for the elimination of friction. Sales of this machine pushed Maytag, previously the 38th-largest U.S. washing machine company, into first place.

At this juncture, the farm-implement portion of the business was discontinued. L. B. Maytag, son of the founder, became president of the company in 1920. Under his direction the company began to market nationally. In 1925 Maytag incorporated and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1926 another Maytag son, E. H. Maytag, assumed the presidency and held the position until his death in 1940. Over the next several years, a number of interesting attachments were offered on washers. A butter churn and a meat grinder were two options offered to buyers. By 1927 Maytag had produced one million washers.

During the Great Depression, Maytag held its own; the company even made money. At his father's death in 1940, Fred Maytag II, grandson of the founder, took over the presidency. During World War II, the company made only special components for military equipment. In 1946 production of washers started up again, and in 1949 the first automatic washers were produced in a new plant built for that purpose. In 1946 Maytag began marketing a line of ranges and refrigerators made by other companies under the Maytag name. During the Korean War the company again produced parts for military equipment, although washer production continued.

Reputation as Premium Brand Secured in Postwar Years

During the 1950s the appliance industry grew rapidly. Maytag first entered the commercial laundry field at this time, manufacturing washers and dryers for commercial self-service laundries and commercial operators. During these years full-line appliance producers began targeting Maytag's market. Full-line operators--such as General Electric, Whirlpool, and Frigidaire&mdash′ovided washers and dryers, refrigerators, stoves, and other appliances. Maytag was much smaller than the full-line producers. It limited itself to the manufacture of washers and dryers, which it marketed with ranges and refrigerators built by other companies, and established its reputation as a premium brand.

The ranges and refrigerators Maytag had been marketing with its washers and dryers were dropped in 1955 and 1960, respectively, but the company soon reentered the field with its own portable dishwasher and a line of food-waste disposers in 1968. When Fred Maytag II, the last family member involved in the company's management, died in 1962, E. G. Higdon was named president and George M. Umbreit became chairman and CEO.

By the late 1970s over 70 percent of U.S. households were equipped with washers and dryers. Laundry-equipment sales had peaked in 1973 and the lifetime of such equipment was 10 to 12 years--often longer for Maytag. To help boost sales, prices became more competitive. Chairman Daniel J. Krumm, who had been elected president in 1972, set the company in a new direction in 1980 when he made the decision to make Maytag into a full-line producer, eventually selling a wide range of major appliances rather than just washers, dryers, and dishwashers.

Transformed into Full-Line Producer in the 1980s

The expansion was effected by acquisition. The first purchase was Hardwick Stove Company in 1981, followed in 1982 by Jenn-Air Corporation, the leading manufacturer of indoor electric grills with stove-top vent systems. These products added a full line of gas and electric cooking appliances to the Maytag line and were sold under the Maytag umbrella. Maytag Company intended this diversification to increase its sales in both the new-home market as well as the replacement market; companies make bids to developers based on kitchen packages, not individual components. The larger replacement market had also changed: large chains selling several brands side by side dominated the market. Chairman Krumm felt the diversification was necessary despite the cyclical nature of the building industry.

The new strategy paid off. Consumers began to buy again, and Maytag's sales increased in all areas in 1983. In May 1986 the move toward becoming a full-line producer continued with the purchase of the Magic Chef group of companies in a $737 million stock swap. Magic Chef's Admiral brand gave Maytag a presence in the refrigerator and freezer sector. Besides Admiral refrigerators, Magic Chef also produced other home appliances under the names Toastmaster, Magic Chef, and Norge. The merger gave Maytag the fourth-largest share of the U.S. appliance market. It also brought vending machine manufacturer Dixie-Narco Inc., with its number one position in soft-drink vending equipment, into the fold.

The Magic Chef purchase also helped protect Maytag from the threat of takeover. As the industry consolidated and other companies began to sell higher-priced appliances--Maytag's traditional forte--Krumm responded by moving into the medium-priced market. Magic Chef was Maytag's first step into that market.

The merger of Maytag and Magic Chef doubled Maytag's size and necessitated a restructuring. Maytag Company's name was changed to Maytag Corporation and three major appliance groups were formed: the Maytag appliance division, Magic Chef, and the Admiral appliance division (the Admiral division was consolidated into the other groups in 1988). Hardwick Stoves and Jenn-Air were included in the Maytag division. The president of Magic Chef remained as head of that division, which included Toastmaster--sold in 1987--Dixie-Narco, and Magic Chef air conditioning operations. The Admiral division included Norge and Warwick product lines, part of the old Magic Chef. Each division was given a great deal of autonomy. Other mergers within the industry during 1986 resulted in four companies--Whirlpool, General Electric, White Consolidated Industries, and Maytag--controlling 80 percent of the industry.

By the late 1980s Krumm was ready to move Maytag into foreign markets. With the aim of being a European competitor before the unification of the European Economic Community in 1992, Maytag bought Chicago Pacific Corp. in early 1989 for $961 million. The primary reason for this purchase was Chicago Pacific's Hoover division. Hoover produced and sold high-quality washers, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, and other products primarily in Great Britain and Australia, but also in continental Europe. It also sold vacuum cleaners in the United States, a new product for Maytag. (Chicago Pacific also owned furniture operations, which Maytag sold later in 1989 to Ladd Furniture for $213.4 million.) Another reason for the Chicago Pacific purchase was to further ward off takeover. The $500 million debt the company assumed with the acquisition helped make the company less attractive to raiders. Meanwhile, 1989 also saw the debut of the first refrigerators bearing the Maytag brand.

1990s Retrenchment

Maytag's acquisitions spree led directly to a troubled period in the early 1990s. Profits declined each year from 1990 to 1992 as the company was hit hard by the recession and the increased competition that it engendered, and was further weakened by a continuing high debt load. The acquisition of Hoover was turning into a near-disaster as the European operations were in the red year after year, a situation made even worse in 1992 when Hoover Europe made a serious miscalculation in offering two free transatlantic airline tickets to anyone buying a Hoover product in the United Kingdom for as little as $165. More than 220,000 people responded to this almost-too-good-to-be-true deal, leading not only to a financial folly but also to a near public relations disaster when the company delayed getting tickets to people claiming them, as well as to litigation that continued for years to come. The fiasco led to the firing of three top executives at Hoover Europe, as well as Maytag being forced to take a $30 million charge in 1993 to cover the costs of the ill-fated promotion.

In the midst of these troubles, Krumm--the architect of the 1980s expansion--retired in late 1992, and was succeeded as chairman and CEO by Leonard A. Hadley, who had been company president. It did not take Hadley long to determine that it would be best in the long run if Maytag pulled back from its overseas ambitions and concentrated on putting its North American house in order. Hoover Europe alone had lost a total of $163 million from the date of its purchase by Maytag through 1994. In late 1994 Maytag sold its Hoover Australia unit to Southcorp Holdings for $82.1 million in cash, resulting in an after-tax loss of $16.4 million. In the second quarter of the following year, Maytag sold Hoover Europe to Italian appliance maker Candy SpA for $164.3 million in cash, resulting in an after-tax loss of $135.4 million. Maytag retained the Hoover North America operation. Proceeds from these sales were largely used to pay down the company's long-term debt, which stood at just $488.5 million by 1996, compared to nearly $800 million in the early 1990s.

By 1996, Maytag was on the upswing. Although revenues of $3 billion were slightly lower than at the beginning of the decade in part due to the divestments of 1994 and 1995, the net income of $162.4 million represented a high point for the decade so far. That figure would have been even higher, if it were not for the $24.4 million restructuring charge the company took early that year in connection with the consolidation of its two separate major appliance operations into a single operation called Maytag Appliances, which was handed responsibility for all sales, marketing, manufacturing, logistics, and customer service functions for the Maytag, Jenn-Air, Admiral, and Magic Chef brands. Freed from its overseas headache, Maytag also began to revitalize its appliance lines through record 1996 capital spending of $220 million, much of which went toward new product development and improvements in existing lines. Among new products introduced were washers and dryers tagged with a new brand: Performa by Maytag; these were priced lower than Maytag brand products but carried some of the Maytag cachet. On the high end of the scale, the company jumped onto the front-loading washer bandwagon with the March 1997 debut of the Neptune high-efficiency model. In the refrigerator arena--Maytag's weakest product line--a three-year, $180 million redesign effort culminated with the April 1997 introduction of a new generation of Maytag, Jenn-Air, Magic Chef, and Admiral models that had increased capacity, were quieter, included several pull-out features, and boasted of faster temperature recovery following the opening of the freezer or refrigerator door. Some of the credit for these innovations went to Lloyd D. Ward, whom Hadley had recruited from PepsiCo's Frito-Lay unit in early 1996 to become executive vice-president of Maytag and president of Maytag Appliances--and perhaps heir apparent to Hadley.

Despite the heavy investments in North America, Maytag had not entirely given up on overseas growth. Like numerous other companies in the mid-1990s, Maytag decided to move into the burgeoning Chinese market. It did so in September 1996 with an initial $70 million investment to set up a series of joint ventures with the Hefei Rongshida Group Corporation, the leading washing machine firm in China, marketing its products under the well-known RSD brand. Maytag initially teamed with Hefei Rongshida in the production and marketing of washing machines, but planned to extend the venture into refrigerators during a second phase.

Further evidence of the stronger financial position of Maytag came with the $93.5 million purchase of G.S. Blodgett Corp. in late 1997. The privately held Blodgett--which traced its origins to the Blodgett Oven Co. founded in Burlington, Vermont, in 1848--was a manufacturer of commercial ovens, fryers, and charbroilers for the food service industry, thus representing a logical extension of Maytag's product lines and customers. Blodgett was the company's first acquisition since that of Chicago Pacific in 1989.

The Maytag Corporation of the late 1990s was stronger than it had been in years. Through heightened new product introductions; strategic, manageable acquisitions; and selective overseas ventures the company was positioning itself for steady, profitable growth, while at the same time maintaining its reputation for quality.

Principal Subsidiaries: G.S. Blodgett Corp.; D.N. Holdings, Inc.; Dixie-Narco Inc.; Maytag Foreign Sales Corporation (Virgin Islands); The Hoover Company; Maytag International Inc.; Maharashtra Investment, Inc.; Hoover Mexicana S.A. de C.V. (Mexico); Hoover Holdings Inc.; Juver Industrial S.A. de C.V. (Mexico); Maytag International Limited (U.K.); Maytag Ltd. (Canada); Maytag Worldwide N.V. (The Netherlands Antilles); AERA Limited (Hong Kong); Maytag International Investments, Inc.; Maytag International Investments B.V. (The Netherlands Antilles); Hefei Rongshida Co. Ltd. (China; 50.5%).

Further Reading:

  • "At 80, Maytag Feels 'Terrific,"' Appliance Manufacturer, November 1987, p. 28.
  • Bremner, Brian, and Mark Maremont, "Maytag's Foreign Fling Isn't Much Fun After All," Business Week, September 4, 1989, pp. 32--33.
  • Bulkeley, William M., "Wring in the New: Washers That Load from Front Are Hot," Wall Street Journal, April 29, 1997, pp. A1, A5.
  • Byrne, Harlan S., "Maytag Corp.: Hope for Growth Lies in European Operations," Barron's, May 25, 1992, pp. 35--36.
  • ------, "The Predator or the Prey?," Barron's, March 3, 1997, pp. 22, 24.
  • ------, "Remaking Maytag," Barron's, August 21, 1989, pp. 12--13.
  • David, Gregory E., "Breaking the Spell," Financial World, May 10, 1994, pp. 34, 36.
  • Dubashi, Jagannath, "Taken to the Cleaners," Financial World, August 4, 1992, p. 28.
  • Geisi, Steve, "Maytag Revs $35M in Product Noise," Brandweek, February 17, 1997, pp. 1, 6.
  • ------, "Spin-Cycle Doctor," Brandweek, March 10, 1997, pp. 38--40.
  • Gold, Howard, "Maytag Steps Out: Boxed in for Years in Its Traditional Markets, Maytag Is Starting to Behave in an Uncharacteristically Venturesome Way," Forbes, December 17, 1984, p. 96.
  • Hannon, Kerry, "Damned If You Do . . .," Forbes, March 20, 1989, p. 201.
  • Harris, John, "Wake Up, Maytag Man!," Forbes, November 13, 1989, pp. 308, 310.
  • Hill, Andrew, and Michael Cassell, "Candy Pulls Hoover Away from the Mangle," Financial Times, May 31, 1995, p. 21.
  • Hillinger, Charles, "Washdays, Birthdays: Maytag Notes 80 Years," Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1987.
  • Hoover, Robert, and John Hoover, An American Quality Legend: How Maytag Saved Our Moms, Vexed the Competition, and Presaged America's Quality Revolution, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993, 239 p.
  • "In Pursuit of Quality," Appliance Manufacturer, November 1987, p. 38.
  • Kelly, Kevin, Fred Guterl, and Roon Lewald, "Can Maytag's Repairman Get Out of This Fix?," Business Week, October 26, 1992, pp. 54--55.
  • "Maytag: Wizard of White Goods," Dun's Business Month, December 1985, p. 34.
  • Quintanilla, Carl, "Lloyd Ward Puts a New Spin on Maytag," Wall Street Journal, November 26, 1996, pp. B1, B8.
  • Remick, Norman C., Jr., "Maytag: A China Connection," Appliance Manufacturer, February 1997, p. G16.
    The Spirit of Maytag: 100 Years of Dependability: 1893-1993, Newton, Iowa: Maytag Corporation, [1993].
  • Upbin, Bruce, "Global, Schmobal," Forbes, March 10, 1997, pp. 64, 66.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 22. St. James Press, 1998.