They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To

In the basement laundry room of the family farm home is a refrigerator like the one pictured above. The International-Harvester deepfreeze is a few feet away, under the stairwell. A farm equipment company, IH began making refrigeration appliances in 1947, but only manufactured them for a few years before selling the division off. At $700 for a freezer, the price was out of reach for most households.

Both are at least 50 years old. My grandparents purchased the freezer used in the mid 1950’s and sold it to my dad in 1965. Its colourful history includes rescue from a house fire through timely intervention with a chainsaw through an exterior wall. Both appliances continue to function as well as the day they were built.

It is nearly impossible for a woman of my size to move an IH refrigerator by herself. The new Sears Kenmore I bought a couple of years ago (to replace the leaky harvest gold 70’s model that came with the house) weighs about as much as a styrofoam box.

Then again – nobody ever had to move an International freezer because it quit working.

Five decades of hard-won technological advances have cut the weight, energy consumption and functioning lifespan of kitchen appliances like these by two-thirds.

I don’t know that this is progress.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, General
Kate McMillan
About Kate McMillan
Kate McMillan is the proprietor of small dead animals, which has won numerous awards including Best Conservative Blog and Best Canadian Blog. She contributed nearly 300 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and June 2007. Follow her on Twitter @katewerk.

Comments

  1. Attila Girl says:

    Is there a connection between light weight and short lifespan? I wonder. I suspect that the two are independent variables, and that as companies began making appliances “better” in some regards, they realized that it wasn’t in their best interests to make them last virtually forever.

  2. McGehee says:

    To whom did IH sell off the division? Under what name did it continue, and for how long?

    And I think AG comes close to raising the main point: household appliances have reached a point where, in adjusted dollars, they sell for much, much less than they did 60 years ago — in terms of buying power, a typical consumer in 2004 works for maybe a couple of weeks to buy a name-brand reffrigerator-freezer, whereas his parents or grandparents would have had to work much longer to pay for even a non-IH equivalent (with far fewer features).

    Making such an appliance capable of functioning without fail for 60 years would quickly price it out of the market, putting the company out of business long before deferred obsolescence would do so.

  3. Jay says:

    This might make an interesting addition to CotC, as a discussion of a product history, quality, and change.

  4. Bryan C says:

    I know exactly what you mean. Our family had an ancient GE fridge that just wouldn’t die. After we outgrew it my dad used it for storing film and batteries until it was eventually sold when we remodelled the garage. It’s probably still in use somewhere.

    The 30-year-old Frigidaire (“A Division of General Motors”) that came with the house I bought just died last month. It was repairable, and if my wife hadn’t wanted a new fridge it’d be fixed instead. But the white and gold 1950’s freezer in the basement is still humming away. It was bought by the previous homeowners from Dutterers, a local meat-packing and delivery business. The freezer apparently outlived the company.

  5. Norman Rogers says:

    Of course, that fifty year-old appliance uses three times the energy (per cubic foot of capacity) that its modern replacement requires and would cost ten times as much if it were still manufactured today.

    And, when it does fail you’ll quickly chuck it (if you can lift it) because no one makes replacement parts for the damned thing.

    Appliances have a useful life. Deal with it!

  6. Neal says:

    That is the first I have seen of an IH refridgerator since 1977. Helped a girlfriend move hers and thought the dolly and my back would both break.

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