The Shelvador Refrigerator by Crosley

Retro Staff 4 Comments
mid-1930s ad for Shelvador

Shelvador print ad from the mid-30s (est. 1937)

By the early ’30s, Powel Crosley Jr had already built cars and radios. His foray into household appliances started with the Icyball, a refrigerator that was powered by kerosene rather than electricity. It was the Shelvador, though, that would make him millions, while an industry eagerly awaited its chance at the same success.

The story behind the Shelvador varies. Some say it was Crosley’s idea. Other publications report that another inventor, having already been turned away by other manufacturers, brought the idea to Crosley. In the latter story, the inventor opted for a $15,000 cash payment rather than a royalty rate of 25 cents per unit, which would have netted him millions.

Today, it’s hard to think about a fridge without all the shelves and pockets to maximize space, but the Shelvador truly changed the industry. For nearly two decades this “shelves on the door” fridge gave people good reason to buy anew, while competitors, who initially thought such an idea ridiculous, tried to find ways to get around the patent.

Many models of the Shelvador were produced. The unit’s overall design changed with the times, but some things never changed. Crosley was adamant, as he was with his radios, that only stores and distributors that provided great service should sell the appliance. In the 1930s, prices included delivery, installation, and a year of service.

1933 Prices

Crosley D-45 Shelvador

The Crosley D-45 (1933) [Source: The Crosley Brodcaster, December 1933]

Three “Model D” refrigerators were prominent: D-35, D-45 and D-60. The number indicated the storage capacity, with the D-35 having 3.5 cubic feet, the D-45 having 4.5 cubic feet, and the D-60 having 6.0 cubic feet. The prices published in December 1933 were $89.50, $99.50 and $130 respectively, with costs in Western states slightly higher.

The original Shelvadors had a self-contained, removable unit. Unlike today’s appliances, which require heavy dismantling, this refrigerator’s cooling system could be easily lifted out of the top, allowing for quick changing if necessary. It also featured a variable control switch, which allowed for defrosting without turning off the refrigerating section, a slide-in compartment for ice trays, and automatic interior lighting. The porcelain interior was welded into a single piece and the bars of the shelves were flat to prevent bottles from tipping.

As with so many other products during WWII, the Crosley Shelvador took a back seat while Crosley plants were used to build bombsights, bomber turrets, military radios and radar equipment. During that time, Crosley ran advertising that hyped the return of the Shelvador. The one below uses the tagline: Twice as much food to the front! to explain the support of the troops and the latest model in “shelves on the door” refrigeration.

“…the day will come again when millions of American women can realize their dreams of having a handsome, new Crosley Refrigerator…”

Shelvador Ad During WWII

 In 1945, Crosley sold his appliance line to AVCO, who shut it down in 1956 due to stiff competition. By then, every major refrigerator manufacturer was including shelves on the door of units, making the once-unique Shelvador a commonality. During its final decade, though, the Shelvador was marketed heavily to women, in bright, colorful print advertisements.

1949 Shelvador Ad

Did your home have a Shelvador? Any special memories from you, your mother, your grandmother, of using one of the first fridge’s with shelves on the door?

Last updated: Mar 26, 2014
Filed under: Remember When, Retro Advertising, Retro Museum Tagged with: advertising, appliances, Crosley, marketing