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Sunday, October 18, 2015

There actually was a Maytag repairman

1907 Maytag washing machine.

The Maytag Repairman is one of the cleverest advertising devises in American history. He at once draws sympathy as the loneliest guy in town, with the subtext of the quality and dependability of the product.

There really was a Maytag -- Frederick Louis Maytag -- and he really had a repairman -- Howard Snyder -- who made the company into America's leading washing machine company in the 20th century.

It began with threshers.

Born on July 14, 1857, in Elgin,, Illinois, Frederick Louis Maytag, usually just called F.L., was the eldest of the 10 children on Amelia and Daniel William Maytag, who were Jewish immigrants from Germany. They changed the spelling of their name from Maitag, to Americanize it. They were farmers who moved to Laurel, Iowa, when F.L.was 10. Later, they moved to Newton, where F.L. made his fortune.

As an adult, F.L. did not farm but rather he sold farm equipment. In 1893, George W. Parsons had invented a thresher and he took F.L. and his two brothers-in-law as partners. But the Panic of 1893 and two wet growing seasons nearly did in the company. Maytag bought out his partners and hung in there.

Maytag stressed quality, reliability and dependability. A good businessman, Maytag followed complaints to the main office, and they came in from every place in the Midwest except Mower County, Minnesota. He investigated, He discovered his salesman in that territory had a son-in-law, Howard Snyder, who tinkered with the threshers and tractors, and made sure they were in working condition.

A native of Rose Creek, Minnesota, Snyder had no formal training or education in engineering, but Maytag had found his repairman, and offered Snyder a job as a field manager. But Snyder's son had died recently, and he did not want to put his family through the turmoil of relocating. Two years later, in 1898, at age 30, Snyder joined the company and moved to Newton. Snyder was Maytag's bets hire.

Snyder made improvements to the farm equipment that Maytag offered.

In 1909, Snyder had an idea that the company branch out and build washing machines, which were all the rage at the time. Maytag listened and realized washing machines would help the company in the off-season when farms were closed for the winter. The first model came out in 1907. It was primitive, but ladies loved them and they sold.

Snyder meanwhile worked on improving the washing machine, steadily building the foundation for today's machine. He also made improvements to the other products Maytag sold.

Maytag meanwhile tried to diversify his portfolio, nearly bankrupting the company as he piled up his debt, buying  high and selling low the South Dakota Central Railroad, a short-lived short line that connected Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with Watertown, Iowa. But Maytag was a fair man and he reimbursed friends who had purchased stock on his advice.

He also unwisely invested in a bank, a mausoleum, a luxury automobile company. But as bad an investor as he was, Maytag was a good businessman. His was not the first washing on machine company, or even the first washing machine company in Newton. In fact it was the third such manufacturer in Newton.

But Maytag was a wise businessman. He stressed quality. He worked on promotion. He listened to customers. He listened to employees. After all, that was how he got in the washing machine business.

Snyder came up with the multi-motor which ran on gasoline. The motor ran so well, people used it to churn butter.

Maytag was aggressive, expanding his company by buying out competitors. In advertisements, he also was aggressive promising to end Blue Mondays, which was at the time when women did laundry.

He also served as a state senator, as well as mayor of Newton. Eventually Maytag would employ more than 3,000 people -- in a town of 15,000.

But World War I brought problems. Snyder's multi-motor needed revamping. The war caused shortages in supplies. Sales fell. Layoffs occurred. F.L. stepped aside and his son became president of the company in 1920. His father, after all, was 62..

However, 1920 also was the year Maytag introduced the first modern washing machine, the Model 72, or as its inventor Howard Snyder called it, the Gyrafoam, which pushed water through clothes rather than whipping them through the corrugated sides. The model saved the company and cemented Maytag's reputation as a reliable and dependable appliance. Maytag dominated the market, becoming the world leader in 1926.

F.L. was by then the figurehead of the company. For his 70th birthday in 1927, he gave $132,000 to his employees. In 1933, he moved to Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. Four years later, he died on March 26, 1937. A special train brought him back to Newton, where 10,000 employees and their family members lined the streets for his final viewing.

Snyder contracted multiple sclerosis and became homebound in 1925. He died two years later. Employees lined the streets of Newton to pay their respects.

The company did well under F.L's son and later his grandson. But after the death of his grandson, new managers came in. They began stressing profits over serving their customers, who began calling the products Amanatags, after Maytag acquired Amana.

Whirlpool acquired Maytag in 2009. This summer, Whirlpool shuttered the Newton plant.

Which is just as well. In 2007, Maytag had to recall 250,000 washing machines because they were fire hazards. Managers should have taken the name Maytag off their product then because F.L. deserves a better legacy.

The original Maytag repairman commercial. The loneliest guy in town.


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  1. Appreciated the commercial; my mom always liked Jesse White.

  2. My mom had a washing machine like he one in your picture.