AMERICAN ELECTROLUX TODAY
by Charles Richard Lester

After 78 years (as of 2002), Electrolux-USA is no more.


“The beginning of the end” was foreshadowed on May 31, 1985, when the Electrolux Corporation closed its red-brick mill in Old Greenwich, Connecticut which, at the time, employed 830 workers. The 22-acre site was put on the market for $15 million.

Electrolux executives said that foreign competition and the need to automate have forced them to close the “mother factory,” where the company got its start when Gustaf Sahlin, a Swedish businessman, started producing “a revolutionary new tank-type cleaner,” which he had imported from Stockholm. Over the next 50 years, engineers in the research and development division of the Old Greenwich plant threw themselves into developing and improving their products. An estimated five to six miles of conveyor belts facilitated the transformation of such raw materials as plastic pellets, steel sheets and aluminium ingots into the Electrolux Cleaner.

By the mid-1960's the old factory, with its wooden floors and multileveled layout, was beginning to show its age. Over the next two decades, Electrolux opened four new factories, two in Canada, one in Virginia and one in North Carolina. Salesmen still sold the products door to door.

In 1985, company executives decided that one factory would have to close. They selected the oldest one. “We need to automate the plants,” a company executive said. “We don't want to be caught like some companies that have waited too long.”

The average worker at the Greenwich plant worked there for 18 years, officials said. The shop is non-union, and workers earned an average of $9 an hour. Younger workers acknowledged that they were concerned about finding comparably paying jobs in the region.

In light of the generally friendly management-labor relations, Electrolux executives developed what they believed to be a model program to help laid-off employees find new work.

The company gave employees six months' notice of the closing and offered a series of seminars to prepare older workers for retirement. In conjunction with state and local officials, religious leaders and 15 major employers in the area, the company set up a job center.

The property was sold, and in 1987, a mix of 24 Victorian-style one-family houses and 167 low-rise condominiums with prices ranging from $234,000 to $685,000 was buit there.


But to get to the point of this article...


In May 2001, the name of the company was changed from “Electrolux” to “Aerus” — ostensibly to avoid confusion with Electrolux-Sweden (even though the two companies have coexisted since the mid-1920s when Electrolux first began importing cleaners to the U.S.)

According to press releases, Aerus “asked Addis [an advertising agency] to create a new name, positioning, branding architecture, and identity that would help it grow after it sold the North American rights to its name in 1998 to the Swedish firm The Electrolux Group. The two companies are not affiliated.” (Odd, though, that Aerus’ web-site address is still “electrolux-usa.com” — I guess to avoid confusion...?!)

Actually, Electrolux USA has not been a “real” company (owner-operated, that is) since the early 1970s when it was swallowed up by Consolidated Foods (which, in the 1980s, was taken over by Sara Lee), and it has been passed around several times since then. Similarly, Aerus is also part of yet another conglomerate that now also owns the Tri-Star vacuum cleaner company. Throw a bit of Eureka into the mix, and things really get complicated — here’s another interesting twist: Eureka Vacuum Cleaners, founded in American in cir. 1915, is owned by ... AB Electrolux of Sweden! Ditto for the formerly-American Frigidaire Refrigerators.

But back to Aerus ... The new Aerus “Lux 9000” is a nice-looking machine, but it's made of plastic. Oh — sorry — it’s not made of plastic. It’s made of “space-age lexan, the same high-impact polycarbonate that the hull of the Space Shuttle was made of and that is used for bulletproof windows.” Or something along that line. [“A rose by any other name...”]

Now, let me state that it certainly is neither my wish nor intent to impugn or disparage Aerus-Electrolux in any way. All I am taking issue with, really, is the design aesthetics and not the quality or any implied lack thereof. You just have to understand that Aerus sales reps and I approach the Electrolux Company from completely diametric perspectives.

A prime example of this is regarding the plastic issue. It’s not that I consider plastic, per se, to be “unworthy” in terms of ruggedness or durability but is more a matter of aesthetics. Painted metal just looks nicer than plastic.

That consideration extends in a very general way to the overall aesthetics of the new machines. While the Aerus 9000 is a very powerful and efficient machine, can anyone set it next to a model XXX and sincerely claim that it is a more beautiful machine than the older model XXX?

And that is the point I am trying to get across. From the perspective of a collector, student, and historian of industrial design, the aesthetics of a vacuum cleaner are at least as important as the function. Especially with the Electrolux.

Then there’s the matter of noise. I wonder how many current Aerus personnel have ever heard a model XXX run. Its elegant sound is so whisper-quiet that the loudest noise you hear is the air rushing through the floor nozzle! You can barely hear the sound of the motor at all. Compare that to the jet engine scream of the Aerus 9000 and I think you will see what I mean. And some of the other machines, such as the Model G, were even quieter than the XXX!

The reason that modern machines are so noisy is because the motors have been made more and more powerful, to the extent that their suction power can’t even be measured on an old-fashioned air-pressure guage. However, while the new machines clearly are more powerful than the older models, that does not necessarily mean they are really much better at cleaning. I mean, really now ... you only need so much air pressure to move a dust bunny from the floor to the sweeper bag!

This is particularly true of bare-surface cleaning. With carpeting, the suction does need to be combined with some sort of agitation. In the case of Electrolux, the company addressed that need in 1959 when they introduced the first power nozzle with the then-contemporaneous Model F. The only two really significant* refinements made since that time were the electric hose, and the Power Nozzle that can stand upright. If you couple a PN5 or PN6 and an electric hose with ANY of the post cloth-bag Electrolux Cleaners, you will have a combination that just can't be beat.

(* Some people -- particularly some sales representatives -- will claim that hepa filtration is the greatest innovation. However, as one who tends to err in the direction of skepticism rather than gullibility, I have a sneaking suspicion that the issue of hepa filtration is more hype than fact and is very likely not much more than just another sales gimmick. People have been using electric vacuum cleaners for almost a century now, and folks haven't been dropping dead right and left from inhaling all the vile filth that emanates from non-hepa machines -- even machines with cloth bags!)

How much power must a vacuum cleaner have to quickly and efficiently clean? At some point, there surely is a diminishing point of return in terms of noisiness, premature motor burn-out due to overheating, and excessive power consumption. Again, I point to the elegant and whisper-quiet model G as an example of a vacuum cleaner that has more than sufficient power to do the job.

In my American Electrolux collection, I have every machine from the first model V to the 50th anniversary Golden Jubilee, plus a couple of later models that I use for “real” cleaning and that don't consider a part of my collection per se. I can't tell you how often I find myself putting the new machines aside and going to one of my older machines. The older cleaners, most particularly Models E through G, are just so much more pleasant to use on nearly every count, and they all certainly have more than enough power to do the job.

I do realize that nuts like me are in the minority. In today’s culture, everything has to be new, new, new — you buy something and it’s outdated and obsolete before you even get it out of the box, whether that be a computer, vacuum cleaner, or electric toothbrush (with a microchip control panel that puts the Space Shuttle to shame).

It was not always like this. When a household acquired a model XXX Electrolux in 1949, the purchaser anticipated that the machine would last many years. And, indeed, in countless homes, that was precisely the case. There are, even to this day, many model XXXs still being put to good, regular use. One wonders how many Aerus 9000s will still be offering their services 50, 60, 70 years from now.......

By the way, the factory-authorized retail price for the Aerus 9000 -- across the entire United States -- is $1499 [as of 2002]. If an Aerus dealer tries to sell a machine to you for more than that amount, then you should call the Aerus headquarters at 1-800-243-9078 (or email them at customerservice@aerusonline.com).

I am making a point of mentioning this, because it just so happens that I recently called an Aerus dealer to inquire about the newest model and I asked what it cost. The quote I got over the phone was $2000.00 (plus tax). I have found out, since then, that such price-gouging is in direct violation of company policy. Prices for Aerus products are the same across the nation and, by company policy, machines cannot be sold for more. Aerus reps will be terminated for doing so.

 

–— ooOoo —–

 
I'll conclude this section with some excerpts from a very nice email I recently received from an Aerus representative in Minnesota who found this web site. Her sentiments about the company and its products are worth relating, inasmuch as her feelings do reflect the spirit and philosophy of “Old-Time Electrolux.” I found it very gratifying and heartwarming to become aware that such fine and dedicated people are still affiliated with the company:

I found your article very interesting and informative. I have worked for Electrolux for 18 years and have found it to be one of the best companies I have ever worked for.

We have always prided ourselves that our customers come first and foremost. We still offer in-home service and our turn around time on repairs is generally about 48 hours. We also still have free pick-up and delivery and have had since the beginnings of this company. The name may have changed but the policies did not.

I am sorry if you feel that the plastic bodied machines are not worthy but we did have more than a few customers complain about the heaviness of the steel bodied machines.

When the company first came out with the lexan-bodied machines there were quite a few of us in the offices that looked upon them with great trepidation. These machines have stood up to the test of time though, and I have only ever seen one with the body cracked on it -- and that was because the customer’s daughter drove over it with her car after she finished cleaning it. The motor and electronics in the machine were okay.

Each time the company makes a change on the machines, we in the offices are the first to tear them apart and see what is going on and how they have been changed. I feel that the product which American Electrolux / Aerus-Electrolux produces is by far the best in quality and realiabilty.

 

UPDATE: 3/17/04

I rec’d the following UNOFFICIAL announcement from a “bigwig” with Aerus/Electrolux:

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“Electrolux Home Care Products North America” is the brand new name of Electrolux’s floor care business in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

The official name change announcement will be made at the Housewares Show in Chicago, one of the biggest trade shows in the U.S. (see www.housewares.org) So, since I am letting the cat out of the bag a little early, don’t tell anyone!

[Note: the trade show opened today, so I have abided by my contact's request. --CL]

As you probably know, we were previously part of the Eureka Company -- or, vice-versa -- Electrolux purchased The Eureka Company in the mid 1970s (I think). So, Eureka has been part of The Electrolux Group for some time. Our parent company is still The Electrolux Group in Sweden.

The Electrolux Group sold the rights to the Electrolux trademark in North America to a group owned by Sarah Lee back in the 60s. The Swedish company then focused on growing its business in other parts of the world -- through growing the Electrolux trademark and making strategic acquisitions.

We have now acquired the Electrolux name back from the company called Aerus (and here's the real tricky part) but not completely: Aerus still “owns” the Electrolux name in the Specialty Vac Shop realm, and will continue selling machines under the name Aerus or Aerus-Electrolux.

Meanwhile, we are introducing a new line of Electrolux vacuums in the US and Canada. These are the products marketed as Electrolux world-wide. They are quite different from the Aerus/Electrolux products. (Two very different evolutionary streams since the late 60s). See the products on our website.

We will still market the Eureka brand as well as Sanitaire commercial vacuums and Beam central vacs. We have no intention of slapping the Electrolux name on every product we make.

New Electrolux North American site:
na.electrolux.com


Historical Narrative

(Electrolux Today)

Models V through XII

Models XXX through XX

Models LX through S

Models F through G

Models L through Present

Electrolux Patents 1924 to 1964
 

My Web Site “Home Page”

 

"The Fine Print" – I am not in any way associated with, or employed, retained, contracted, or remunerated by, Aerus Electrolux or any of its subsidiaries, affiliates, or related companies. I do not sell or repair Aerus Electrolux Vacuum Cleaners nor do I represent the Aerus Electrolux Company on any level.

I am, rather, a student and self-appointed historian in the field of study of industrial design -- with a particular interest in, and focus on, the aesthetics and design of vintage vacuum cleaners.

The data contained in these pages represents my (opinionated and one-sided) perspectives only and must not be construed, interpreted, disseminated, or quoted as Aerus Electrolux policy, philosophy, practices, regulations, guidelines, or opinions.

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