75 Years Young – White-Rodgers Continues to Innovate
White-Rodgers, a business of Emerson Climate Technologies, celebrates its 75th Anniversary in 2012. 75 is only a number – except when it represents experience, integrity and customer support. Then it is evidence of knowledgeable people working together to design and deliver products, services and support of its customers over the long-haul. The history of White-Rodgers is not unlike that of other successful businesses. Two engineers solve a problem that will benefit many applications and have the vision and determination to build and sell their new control. Many things have changed during our first 75 years, but that vision and determination are alive and well today. Please allow us to share our story of innovation with you.
In the mid-1930s, an engineering team of six employees from Emerson Electric Co. was developing a new type of control system for temperature and refrigeration applications based on principles of hydraulic action. This team was led by two of Emerson’s senior managers, James Rodgers and Chesterfield “Doc” White.
Determined to build the new control, White, Rodgers and the other four left Emerson and pooled their resources to start their own company. They partnered with Joe Newman and formed a company in 1937 known briefly as Missouri Automatic Controls, but was soon was renamed “White-Rodgers” after the organization’s founders. The new company started with 25 employees in a leased building, located on Cass Avenue in Saint Louis, Missouri. Over the course of the next four years, the company’s attention was devoted to the production and distribution of this new hydraulic control device, and to implement long-range plans for product research and development, improvement of manufacturing methods and techniques, and the establishment of sales offices and product advertising.
In 1941, with World War II underway, White-Rodgers diverted a major portion of its manufacturing operation to temperature and pressure controls and servomechanisms for the Armed Services. Heavy-duty, military-grade temperature controls based on HVACR hydraulic temperature controls were designed, approved and manufactured for Consolidated, Bell, Douglas and North American aircraft. These military aircraft participated in almost every facet of the War including support of the critical D-Day landing on Normandy beaches. (1940s Advertisements) The Army and Marines also benefited greatly as White-Rodgers was the leading manufacturer of portable, hand-held Blasting Machines. Blasting Machines were ruggedly built electric generators that, with the twist of the handle, reliably set off a dynamite charge set by trained demolition teams. The Blasting Machines were manufactured in a secure area within White-Rodgers known as the Armament Department, and special clearance was required to enter the area.
With the end of WW II in 1945, White-Rodgers resumed full production on residential HVACR controls. Soldiers returning home, getting married and starting families created an unprecedented demand in residential construction. With this came a larger availability and use of natural gas for heating these new homes. White-Rodgers answered these needs and played a critical role in supporting this development by broadening its line to include domestic space-heating equipment, primary controls for oil burners and controls for domestic clothes dryers.
In 1950, the Korean Conflict was underway and the White-Rodgers Armament Department was reinstituted to again support the U.S. Military and War Department. The Armament Department remained active within White-Rodgers until March 1957 when the entire Department was sold to Universal Match Corporation of St. Louis. (1950s Advertisements) During this same period, White-Rodgers was broadening its product offering, and in 1956 changed its name to White-Rodgers Company. It was felt that “Electric” was too limiting in describing the company’s products and activities. (White-Rodgers Company Logo through the Years) White-Rodgers continued to make significant strides in manufacturing key control components for residential applications with new product introductions such as an oil burner ignition control in 1958 and water heater thermostat in 1961. The growth of White-Rodgers in the late 1950s allowed the company to design and build a state-of-the-art office and manufacturing facility in Affton, Missouri. The new facility was dedicated in early 1961.
By the end of 1961, White-Rodgers was a top manufacturer and supplier of controls to the HVACR and Appliance industries. This success caught the eye of Emerson Electric Co., which in December acquired White-Rodgers as part of its new growth strategy. White-Rodgers was one of Emerson’s first targets for expansion. At the time, Emerson was looking to diversify into businesses in which they could make a significant contribution and saw White-Rodgers as a perfect fit. Controls manufactured by White-Rodgers were already used with equipment featuring blower motors from Emerson. By 1962, White-Rodgers had become a leading manufacturer of thermostats and gas controls for furnaces and appliances.
Under the umbrella of Emerson Electric Co., White-Rodgers was at the forefront of product development and introduced an array of first-time products including the first 25K gas valve with a die-cast aluminum body as well as the first intermittent ignition control. Major White-Rodgers product developments continued to take place in 1979 when Emerson Electric Co. pursued a Strategic Investment Program focused on research and development. This led to the creation of several new products, most notably a White-Rodgers electronic programmable thermostat. From this technology, White-Rodgers created the first user-friendly programmable digital thermostat in 1983 called the Comfort-Set thermostat. First-time market introductions continued in 1984 when White-Rodgers introduced a hot surface ignition (HSI) furnace control module that was the market’s first exposure to microcomputer-based ignition controls. In addition, the 25M, the smallest redundant, combination gas control for gas dryers, was released as well as the 36E combination gas valve, which was the first on the market with 100 PSI protection.
Quality manufacturing requires accurate product documentation, and in 1989 White-Rodgers demonstrated proper document management and procedures and became the first U.S. HVACR manufacturer to become agency certified under ISO 9001 standards.
White-Rodgers continued to develop new products in the 1990s. The Comfort-Set II thermostat was introduced and became recognized as one of the industry’s leading thermostats. In addition, the 1F80 Series mid-line thermostat was introduced into the market, and continues to be a top-selling thermostat line to this day. More product development continued in 1995 with the release of the first Nitride ignition controls featuring reliable Nitride ignition called Intell-Ignition. Then in 1997, White-Rodgers raised the bar again for programmable thermostats with the introduction of the most powerful and easy-to-use thermostats, Comfort-Set III.
The new millennium brought renewed interest in energy savings and faster, more accurate service calls for contractors. This allowed White-Rodgers to apply its electronics expertise to a broad range of heating, cooling and appliance controls. Electronics combined with gas water heater controls called Intell-Vent was a dramatic improvement in temperature accuracy and diagnostics. White-Rodgers pioneered the universal replacement nitride ignitor for silicon carbide ignitors, as well as the first ignition control with an on-board variable-speed draft inducer motor control.
In 2005, White-Rodgers continued to evolve. First, the company introduced the current White-Rodgers Company logo and moved from Affton, Missouri, to new facilities on the Emerson Campus in Saint Louis, Missouri. The new facilities feature the latest in research and design labs, including specialized product testing equipment and a home/office research and testing center.
White-Rodgers then introduced the Big Blue Touchscreen Thermostat. Featuring a 12-square-inch Blue LCD touchscreen, Big Blue included easy-to-read characters in a simple, uncluttered display. Since then, the Blue thermostat line has grown to include models with 6˝, 4˝ and 2˝ blue displays with unique feature sets. The sleek, eye-pleasing blue screen has become a trademark that White-Rodgers is known for today in its Blue line and in its newer award-winning Blue Easy Reader and Easy Set thermostats. Non-programmable Easy Set thermostats are user-friendly thermostats that feature easy-to-use home, sleep, and away pre-sets for easy operation and home temperature control.
Over the last 75 years, no one is more responsible than White-Rodgers for taking proven mechanical controls (many designed by White-Rodgers) and improving them by integration into residential equipment applications through applied electronics. (Major Product Innovations and Introductions) Electronic-based controls offer improved accuracy, energy savings and provide the optimum balance of comfort and convenience to the user. The HVACR contractor gains onboard diagnostics resulting in faster, more accurate service calls. Today, heating and cooling equipment and white goods employ electronic controls from White-Rodgers that increase system reliability and communications – something that was a technological dream 75 years ago.
White-Rodgers is a proud controls supplier to OEM manufacturers and applies that expertise to universal replacement controls sold through the aftermarket. We would like to thank everyone associated with the HVACR and Appliance Industries for their continued support and confidence through our first 75 years.
Thank you for allowing us to share our story that started with an innovative idea from two gentlemen – James Rodgers and Chesterfield “Doc” White.