Invented in 1892 by Sir James Dewar, a scientist at Oxford University, the "vacuum flask" was not manufactured for commercial use until 1904, when two German glass blowers formed Thermos GmbH. They held a contest to name the "vacuum flask" and a resident of Munich submitted "Thermos", which came from the Greek word "Therme" meaning "hot".
In 1907, Thermos GmbH sold the Thermos trademark rights to three independent companies: The American Thermos Bottle Company of Brooklyn, NY; Thermos Limited of Tottenham, England; Canadian Thermos Bottle Co. Ltd. of Montreal, Canada. The three Thermos companies operated independently of each other, yet developed the Thermos vacuum flask into a widely sought after product that was taken on many famous expeditions, including: Lieut. E.H. Schackelton's trip to the South Pole; Lieut. Robert E. Peary's trip to the Arctic; Colonel Roosevelt's expedition to Mombassa and into the heart of the African Congo with Richard Harding Davis. It even became airborne when the Wright Brothers took it up in their airplane and Count Zepplin carried it up in his air balloon.
Thermos was hailed around the world for its revolutionary design. In 1909 Thermos won the "Grand Prize Award" at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition and went on to be honored at 7 other world expositions. The Thermos vacuum flask made a technological breakthrough in 1911 when Thermos Limited of England produced the first machine-made glass filler. Today Thermos continues to be the world leader in glass vacuum technology.
With the production of machine-made glass fillers, the popularity of Thermos products grew tremendously. Demand grew so much that The American Thermos Bottle Company moved in 1910 from Brooklyn, NY to Manhattan to triple output and then moved again in 1912 to Norwich, CT, again to increase output. The move to Norwich allowed Thermos to improve productivity, clear the backlog of orders and reduce prices in 1914 and 1915. In 1918, the president of The American Thermos Bottle Company, William Walker, announced plans to build manufacturing and distribution facilities all over the world. With an increase in capital by the shareholders, the company entered a period of expansion. Unfortunately, the stress of a general business recession in the early 1920's caught up to Walker and he died in 1922. His widow ran the company briefly and then sold the family interest in 1923 to a syndicate formed by Tobey and Kirk, a firm of investment brokers and bankers. Business began to pick up with the introduction of the No. 24 pint sized "Blue Bottle" and a new gallon-sized insulated food jar known as the Thermos Jumbo Jug.
In 1925 Thermos merged with a small competitor, the Icy-Hot Bottle Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.
A new type of vacuum-insulated double-walled Pyrex® glass vessel was engineered in 1928, some as large as 28 gallons. These became extremely popular in 1928 and 1929 for ice cream cabinets and frozen fish cabinets, just prior to the advent of commercial refrigeration.
Thermos Limited in England had nearly shut down because of the war. After the war the company continued to struggle for some years, operating not as a manufacturer, but as an assembler of imported components. By 1931 the production of glass fillers restarted and the company began its economic recovery. Also, a metal canister factory was opened at Leyton in 1932 and glass filler production was moved to that location in 1938. When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, virtually all of the capacity of Thermos Limited in England was changed over to wartime requirements of the British military forces. Every time a thousand bombers went out on a raid, 10,000 to 12,000 Thermos vacuum flasks went with them. Meanwhile in the U.S., The American Thermos Bottle Company played an important role in the war. More than 98% of its output was for military usage and atomic energy laboratories.
When the war ended in 1945, Thermos plants were reconverted to civilian and peacetime uses. Demand was so great that the Norwich factory, operating at full capacity, could produce only the standard items. Pre-war specialty products did not reappear until later with the purchase in 1947 of a plant in nearby Taftville for metal manufacturing.
In 1952, The American Thermos Bottle Company acquired controlling stock in The Plastene Corporation in Crawfordsville, IN, a manufacturer of injection molded plastic products. This acquisition gave Thermos 2 injection molding facilities in the U.S., and greater expertise in this emerging technology. In 1953, a subsidiary company, Plastene Ltd. of Canada, was formed to produce molded plastic parts for Canadian Thermos.
Branching out further in 1955, The American Thermos Bottle Company acquired control of Hemp and Company, Inc. of Macomb, IL, manufacturers of the "Little Brown Jug" and other insulated jugs and chests as well as Duncan Hines outdoor grills. To reflect the growing diversity of products, the names of the North American companies were changed in 1956. The American Thermos Bottle Company became The American Thermos Products Company, and the Canadian Thermos Bottle Co. Ltd. changed its name to Canadian Thermos Products Limited.
In 1957, 50 years after the company started in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, the Thermos brand vacuum bottle was known almost universally for use with food and beverages. But it also proved useful in science, medicine and industry. It had been used in various instruments measuring electric power, rate of climb in airplanes, detection of oil deposits and weather recording. It had also been used to transport rare tropical fish and to preserve and transport blood plasma, serums, bones, tissues and insulin.
During the first 50 years, Thermos had a relatively stable ownership. In the next three decades there were three major ownership changes. In 1960, the U.S., U.K. and Canadian companies were purchased by the King-Seeley Company to form the King-Seeley Thermos Company. In 1965, King-Seeley Thermos purchased Structo Manufacturing of Freeport, IL, a manufacturer of outdoor cooking grills. Ownership changed hands again in 1968 when King-Seeley Thermos Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Household Finance Company of Chicago, which later became Household International. That corporation was attempting to diversify outside its consumer finance business and eventually bought and sold companies involved in transportation, retailing and manufacturing.
By 1971, over 50% of the production of Thermos Limited of England was being exported to over 100 different companies. The company was presented with the Queen's Award to Industry for these export achievements.
The U.S. operation continued to expand. In 1972, an additional parcel of land was purchased at the Taftville, CT operation and the following year an adjoining building was purchased. In 1974, a second addition was built onto the Macomb, IL plant.
In 1982, as part of a parent company reorganization, the King-Seeley name began to be replaced by Household International. In 1983, Household expanded its manufacturing holdings by acquiring the Wallace Murray Company. The combined operation came to be known as Household Manufacturing. For the next 6 years, Household restructured its manufacturing operations. Several production facilities were moved from northern U.S. locations where they had been long established, to sites in various southern states.
A major product introduction in 1985 was the Coffee Butler, a vacuum insulated glass carafe. The product was an enormous success and became one of the top housewares products in North America in 1985.
In late 1986, Household Manufacturing merged Thermos with Structo to form a single consumer products division in the U.S.
In the 5 years between 1983 and 1988, the owner of Thermos, Household International, had restructured the company by closing facilities in Norwich and Taftville, CT; Macomb, IL and Anaheim, CA. Also, the operations of Thermos and Structo had been merged.
In 1989, Household International announced that it was spinning off or selling off all of its manufacturing operations. There was widespread interest in Thermos from competitors, other consumer products companies and investment companies. In August, 1989, the Thermos operating companies in the U.S., U.K, Canada and Australia were acquired by Nippon Sanso K.K. of Tokyo, Japan. The company was primarily in the business of building and operating gas separation plants, but had recently established a presence in the consumer products business, including the world's first stainless steel vacuum bottle, which they developed in 1978. The acquisition of Thermos provided Nippon Sanso with a widely recognized brand name registered in over 100 countries, and strong distribution in many countries including the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and several developed markets in Latin America, Africa and southeast Asia. These markets would be key to the growth of the steel vacuum bottle business.
A headquarters office for the Thermos Group was established in Schaumburg, IL in 1989. The management of the Thermos and Nissan brands was consolidated at the Schaumburg office and the Nissan brand was renamed "Thermos Nissan". During this time Thermos also expanded its geographic presence. Thermos France S.A. was established to replace the distributor in France. In Germany, Langewiesener Thermos GmbH was acquired. This was the original Thermos company that had been established in 1904 and had moved from Berlin to the state of Thuringen in 1920. Included in the purchase were the rights to the Thermos trademark in 15 countries.
In 1992 an International sales and administration office was established in Schaumburg. The International Division of The Thermos Company was assigned responsibility for sales to Latin America and the Caribbean; Africa and the Middle East; Australia and the Pacific. Offices were later established in Miami, Florida; Johannesburg, South African and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Sales were expanded into Mexico as the benefits of the North America Free Trade Agreement came into effect.
In 1996, the U.K. offices and manufacturing plant at Brentwood were sold for redevelopment as a Sainsbury supermarket. A new 140,000 square foot plant was built at Thetford, adjacent to the glass plant, to manufacture plastic and metal containers and assemble Thermos products. The offices were relocated within Brentwood. Then in 1997, Thermos closed its grill manufacturing facility in Freeport and sold the assets of the business to the Char-Broil Division of W.C. Bradley Co. of Columbus, GA.
With the sale of the grill business, Thermos announced that it would be focusing on its historic core business: portable insulated food and beverage containers. The major product lines in 1997 were Thermos brand and Thermos Nissan brand steel vacuumware, glass vacuumware, foam insulated travel tumblers, foam insulated hard and soft coolers and jugs, and licensed children's lunch kits. Also in 1997 Thermos began to market its insulated products to the Food Service industry.
Today Thermos continues…