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Fedders Meant Room Air

At the beginning of this year’s air conditioning season in the Northeast, a relative who was in the market for an in-wall room air unit asked me a question: “Can I only buy the air conditioner brand that is on the [metal] sleeve in my wall? I think I have to buy that brand.”

I took a look at the sleeve to check and saw the name “FEDDERS” in big, black type. I’m ashamed to say my first reaction was, “We haven’t heard much about them in a while.”

I told my relative not to buy anything until I could check at work the next day to see if sleeves are uniform or not. I called local retailer who sells plenty of air conditioners and told her the story. She said no, sleeves for one brand are compatible with any other brand of the same size. When I told her what brand was on the sleeve she said, “Fedders? I don’t know who carries that brand anymore.”

So I shouldn’t have been surprised by the news last week about Fedders filing for Chapter 11 protection and wanting to sell its North American business.

The Fedders brand to many baby boomers, at least this one, meant room air conditioning in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. Some with longer memories may dispute this but Fedders was to room air in those years the way Xerox was to copiers or Coke still is to cola.

The first room air conditioner in my home growing up was Fedders. And you could see the “Fedders” logo sticking out of plenty of windows and later on sleeves in the Italian area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I grew up.

Years later I found out that Sal Giordano, a guy who joined the company in 1927 as a $16-a-week floor boy in 1927 became president and later chairman of Fedders, grew up in my neighborhood. The story was told in 1989 when he was honored with a Torch of Liberty award by the industry’s Anti-Defamation League. He even saw one of the local subways built in the neighborhood as a boy during World War I. On that same street years later in the 1960s there was hardware store that had a Fedders “Authorized Dealer” sign next to the store’s logo. Maybe there was some “local boy makes good” loyalty to the Fedders’ brand in my neighborhood. If there was, no one ever told me about it. They probably thought Fedders was just plain reliable, and a good value.

Fedders, and Giordano, promoted the heck out of the room air category and then ran into some problems in the mid to late 1960s, getting involved in new categories, exiting others and absorbing the blows of the 1970s energy crisis, among other economic events.

But by the late 1980s, Giordano’s son Sam Giordano Jr. became as CEO and created a spin-off of Fedders called NYCOR. In 1991 NYCOR staged a proxy battle to take over Zenith. Jerry Pearlman, Zenith’s chairman, fought the bid with help from Goldstar, or as it is known today, LG Electronics which eventually bought Zenith.

So who says there’s no synergy between consumer electronics and major appliances? I remember covering the story at the time and a lot of CE executives looked down their noses at “an air conditioner company” trying to buy a venerable CE brand.

As for today, our story reports that Fedders can’t compete in the room air market anymore in the U.S. and will diversify into other related categories. Take a look at the link from Funding Universe again. The company started in 1896, as a metalworking shop, so who knows what the future will bring for Fedders — as a company and as a brand.