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International Harvester Made Refrigerators?

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

The refrigerator in the museum's mid-century kitchen is a 1951 International Harvester, Model HN-12, built at their assembly plant in Evansville, Indiana.

Ross and Carolyn Brower were kind to present it as a gift from the John & Doris Peterson estate.

"International Harvester"

What comes first to your mind? Tractors, right? Field machines once bright red, long-since faded to pink. So how on earth did International Harvester get the notion to jump into the kitchen appliance business?

By 1947 President Roosevelt's 1930's Rural Electrification program was back in full swing; over half of America's farms had power and that proportion was growing fast. The International Harvester company saw this as millions of folks in need of new electrical labor-saving devices. The company already had a rural distribution system in place selling tractors to farmers; what if it could use this system to sell refrigerators and freezers to those farmers' wives?

It wouldn't be an easy sell, not at first. Pickling and canning were the way things had always been done. These refrigerators would have to be introduced as a lifestyle change for the better. You could put up your harvest for less work if you did it right. And thus Irma Harding was born.

Irma Harding was the new female face of International Harvester's refrigeration division, much as Betty Crocker was for the Washburn-Crosby Co. She was a beaming composite of the ideal American homemaker. International Harvester assembled a team of smart, educated young women, gave them cars and sent them all around the Midwest. When these women weren't giving demonstrations at International Harvester dealerships, they drove around the countryside dispensing advice to rural housewives with new International Harvester refrigerators.

International Harvester's ad campaign was similarly directed at women. "They're Femineered!" proclaimed their new slogan over color print ads touting their new line of refrigerators featuring door handles which could be "Color-Keyed" to your kitchen in one of ten different colors.*

These "Femineered" refrigerators weren't on the scene long. By the time our refrigerator was

built, International Harvester's refrigeration division found itself mired in a quarter of a billion dollars of debt. In 1955 refrigerator production ceased and the Evansville plant was sold to Whirlpool.

*You'll observe that our IH Refrigerator is currently in want of its own "Color-Keyed" handle. It's on our wish list.

The Carroll County Historical Society Museum's exhibits are open to visit:

Tuesday 9am-4pm

Thursday 9am-4pm

Friday 9am-4pm

We're located at 700 N Washington St, across the Gray Bridge from the Wabash and Erie Canal Park.

Our phone number is 765-564-5000.

Visit us on the web:

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