Kelvinator bought for the price of a cow in World War II still works

Date: 3/6/02
Luann Laubscher

Star Staff Writer DELIGHT –

Sam Proctor probably never imagined that the Kelvinator refrigerator he bought in World War II would outlive him. Sam died Feb. 24. He was 93. The Kelvinator is still running.

About 12 years ago, Carl Hastings, owner of Delight’s Barber Shop near Casar, bought the Kelvinator from Proctor for $20. “I had an old refrigerator keeping drinks cold at the barber shop,” Hastings said. “One day Sam was in the shop and I said that I needed a new refrigerator. The old one had stopped working. “Sam said he had one on his back porch and if it would still run I could have it for $20,” Hastings said. “Sam went home and plugged it in and it worked, so I bought it.”

Hastings also got a piece of history for that $20. No one seems to know exactly what year the Kelvinator was made, but all the signs point to either 1938 or 1940. John Jowers of said it would be difficult to say exactly how much the Kelvinator is worth without seeing it and knowing what year it was made. “If it was made in the 1930s and is in good shape and is still running, it is probably worth about $500 to $700,” Jowers said. “Completely restored, it would be worth up to $3,200.”

According to Truman Proctor, one of Sam’s nine children, the refrigerator was purchased from Jim White in Casar in wartime for the price of a cow. White would travel up north in World War II and get appliances and bring them back to Cleveland County to sell, Hastings said. “I remember hearing my parents talk about getting the refrigerator and either selling a cow or trading a cow for it,” Truman Proctor said. “I do not know the year they bought it except that it was during World War II. I am 56 years old, and they had it a long time before I was born in 1945.”

The Kelvinator is a conversation piece at the one-chair barber shop in Delight, where a haircut is still $4. Hastings said customers will ask for a drink and he’ll tell them to “get one out of the Kelvinator.” “They don’t know what I’m talking about when I say Kelvinator,” he said. In the 1940s and 1950s,when the brand was popular, Kelvinator became a synonym for refrigerator. “A lot of people don’t know how to open it,” Hastings said. “and then they have trouble shutting it, too, because you have to push it shut. The door does not automatically shut like refrigerators today. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. You can’t even hear it run.

“I never expected it to last this long. I just needed something to keep drinks cold.” The only maintenance Hastings does on the Kelvinator is to defrost it every three or four months. Over time the open freezer area collects ice that must be melted and removed. Today’s refrigerators do not require that kind of attention. Truman Proctor said he remembers helping to defrost the old Kelvinator. “It had to be defrosted every three months,” Truman Proctor said. “It was also a chance to clean the whole refrigerator since you had to empty it and unplug it to defrost it. Now that we don’t have to do that to refrigerators today I wonder how often they get cleaned.”

Truman Proctor said the Kelvinator was never worked on. His father replaced it about 20 years ago for a new, larger refrigerator. The Kelvinator brand no longer exists. According to Jowers, the company got its start in 1881 in Grand Rapids, Mich., and was originally called “The Leonard Refrigerator Company.” “In 1914, a man by the name of Nathaniel Wales got the backing from Buick and developed the first electric refrigerator,” Jowers said. “The name of the company was later changed to Kelvinator after Lord Kelvin, who formulated the absolute zero temperature.

The first refrigerators they made were called the Kelvinator Cabinet.” Jowers said that in 1937 Nash Motors bought the company. Then, in 1952, the refrigerator maker became a part of American Motors when that company bought Nash. In 1968, the company became part of the makers of White-Westinghouse and Frigidaire appliances. The old Kelvinator is not the only link between Hastings and Sam Proctor. Hastings grew up with Sam Proctor’s children. These days, he also runs a 100-acre farm and raises beef cattle. “I knew Sam all my life,” Hastings said. “I went to school with his kids. He used to help me work some.”

You can e-mail reporter Luann Laubscher at, or call her at (704) 484-7000, ext. 120.