RCA-Whirlpool Merger through Advertising

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

In November I was given the task to process a collection of advertisements related to consumer electronics. The Alexander Magoun advertising collection includes ads from RCA, Motorola, General Electric, and other companies ranging in date from 1888 to 1989.

As I was going through the magazine and newspaper clippings in a folder marked “RCA Advertisements – 1950” I found advertisements for Whirlpool refrigerators, gas range stoves, and other appliances. I immediately set them aside as I thought they had been put in the wrong folder. I continued going through the advertisements and began to find more relating to household appliances with various brand names and trademarks.

From processing other collections for the David Sarnoff Library Project I knew that RCA was involved in a range of projects including gas lasers, color televisions, and semiconductors but I had not yet read anything about their involvement with household appliances. After pulling out any advertisements that were related to large appliances, putting them in chronological order, and doing some research the placement of these household appliance advertisements became clear.  

1953 RCA Victor Estate Gas and Electric Ranges advertisement in

1953 RCA Victor Estate Gas and Electric Ranges advertisement in Life.

1954 Whirlpool Automatic Washer and Dryer advertisement

1954 Whirlpool Automatic Washer and Dryer advertisement.

In the early 1950s RCA began to expand its line of consumer electronics to include other electric household appliances. RCA purchased the Estate Heatrola Division, which made gas and electric ranges along with space heaters, from the Norman Electric Corporation in November of 1952. That same year RCA introduced their own line of dehumidifiers and air conditioners.

In 1955 the Radio Corporation of America’s Estate range and air conditioning divisions merged with the Whirlpool Corporation. As part of this merger Whirlpool was given the right to market “RCA Whirlpool” appliances through the mid-1960s.

The first full line of RCA Whirlpool brand home appliances was introduced to distributors in 1956. The line contained twelve appliances that were available in 150 models. In 1966 the RCA Whirlpool brand name changed to Whirlpool, dropping RCA from the trademark information. 

A1955 RCA Estate Range advertisement and a 1955 RCA Whirlpool Electric Range advertisement

(Left) 1955 RCA Estate Range advertisement in The Saturday Evening Post. (Right) 1955 RCA Whirlpool Electric Range advertisement.  

Through the examination and comparison of advertisements between 1952 and 1966, these mergers can be tracked and a timeline can be created. Take for example the air conditioner advertisements below. The earliest example of an air conditioner advertisement in the collection is the image on the left. Promoting an RCA Air Conditioner, this advertisement from 1955 is published just before the merger with Whirlpool.

The brand name, RCA, is made prominent in the product description and in the advertisement overall. In the middle advertisement, however, an RCA Whirlpool air conditioner is being promoted. Dating to 1957 this advertisement was in print one year after the first full line of RCA Whirlpool home appliances was introduced to distributors and consumers. Along with the brand symbol being in the advertisement, it can also be seen on the air conditioner itself.  

Finally, the image on the right from 1968 demonstrates the name change following the end of the trademark deal. No longer toting the RCA Whirlpool brand name or RCA trademark information, the Whirlpool Corporation is linked to the product in the advertisement and on the unit. From these three advertisements a rough timeline of RCA’s involvement with household appliances can be determined and with the assistance of other documents the RCA-Whirlpool merger can be understood. 

RCA and Whirpool air conditioning ads from the 1950's and '60s

(Left) 1955 RCA Air Conditioner advertisement in Time magazine.  (Middle) 1957 RCA Whirlpool air conditioner advertisement.  (Right) 1968 Whirlpool Corporation air conditioner advertisement.  

Through the examination of its large array of materials, the Alexander Magoun advertising collection not only provides an opportunity to see how advertising and products have changed, but also allows researchers to track modifications in the company through the interrogation of advertisements. Although supplementary materials are necessary to learn about the company and their products, these sources provide visual representations of the changes that took place between 1952 and 1966.  

Ashley Giordano is the 2015-2016 David Sarnoff Library collection processing intern in Manuscripts and Archives. Ashley has a B.A. in history from Saginaw Valley State University and is currently a M.A. student and Hagley fellow in the History Department at the University of Delaware.