Camco, Incorporated (Canadian Appliances Manufacturing Company)

Location: 175 Longwood Road, Hamilton, Ontario

A Camco building in the Hamilton plant on Longwood Avenue (click for a closer look) The Canadian Appliances Manufacturing Company, Limited, was formed in December of 1976 by the merger of the appliance divisions of General Electric Canada, Incorporated (G.E.C.) (which had 60% of the shares) and General Steelwares, Incorporated (G.S.W.) (which had 40% of the shares), both of Toronto. In January of the following year, Camco acquired the appliance division of Westinghouse Canada, Limited (W.C.L.). However, the new company was not allowed to use the Westinghouse name or logo, because it had been claimed by White Consolidated Industries when it bought the appliance division of Westinghouse Electric (W.C.L.'s parent company). Instead, Camco manufactured appliances with the brand names of General Electric, Hotpoint, Moffatt, McClary, and Beaumont.

The old W.C.L. plant on Longwood Road became the Hamilton plant of Camco, joining plants in Montreal (Quebec), Weston, London, and Orangeville (all Ontario). With the W.C.L. acquisition, Camco became the largest manufacturer of major appliances in Canada, holding 30% of the Canadian market. The company began by investing more than $1 million dollars in new equipment for the Hamilton plant, in order to be able to manufacture parts that would otherwise have to be imported.

In January, 1981, G.S.W. had planned to sell its share of Camco to its partner, G.C.E. However, the sale was blocked by the Foreign Investment Review Agency and the Canadian government. G.C.E. was almost wholly owned (92%) by General Electric of New York City. If G.C.E. had acquired G.S.W.'s share, Camco would have been a subsidiary of a U.S. firm. The government had blocked a similar sale in 1975, when White Consolidated Industries of Cleveland, Ohio, had attempted to purchase the appliance division of Westinghouse Canada. G.C.E. brought a lawsuit to the Ontario Supreme Court, claiming that the two companies' (G.C.E. and G.S.W.) management styles were so different that the partnership should be dissolved.

Camco, Limited became Camco, Incorporated in June, 1981. In June, 1982, Camco announced a plan to expand the Hamilton plant, at a cost of $75 million. At about the same time, the company decided to close its Weston plant and move the plant's refrigerator and stove operations to Hamilton, where such products were already being manufactured. Opponents of the move claimed that Weston workers would be left out in the cold, or would lose seniority if they transferred to Hamilton. Proponents maintained that such a move is necessary to ensure the company's continued success and, therefore, long-term employment for Ontario workers. In the end, the closure did take place, and Weston workers who chose to transfer were guaranteed their previous status with the new union.

The company continued to expand and modernize throughout the early 1980s, in preparation for reduced appliance tariffs which would increase competition with United States manufacturers. In addition to new equipment, the company planned to double its employee base in the Hamilton plant to approximately 1,000 workers.

On May 27, 1983, workers at the Hamilton Camco plant, represented by the United Electrical Workers Union (U.E.) Local 550, went on strike. Their demands included better wages and an improved cost of living allowance. After 7½ weeks, on July 18, the workers voted to accept the company's offer.

In July of 1983, the lawsuit filed by G.C.E. against G.S.W. was settled. That November, the companies agreed to offer 15% of its shares to the public, resulting in a G.E.C.-G.S.W.-public split of 51-34-15 percent. Plant Manager Bill Bender supervises quality control inspectors (click for a closer look)

By 1984, Camco's earnings increased 150% over the previous year. The market for household appliances was expanding, and the Hamilton plant employed 1,500 workers. The same year, a worker at the Hamilton plant died after being hit in the chest by a metal bar; the first and only death at the plant to this day.

The company's efforts to improve the plant and provide employment earned it two Chamber of Commerce awards for outstanding business achievement in 1985: one from the City of Hamilton, and one from the Province of Ontario. The Hamilton plant was doing so well that Camco's own London plant succumbed to competition, and was closed in 1986. Its operations were transferred to Hamilton.

The annual report for 1986 revealed that Camco's sales income had reached half a billion dollars - a first for any Canadian appliance manufacturer, including the old Canadian Westinghouse appliance division. Camco credited its rationalization scheme (that is, its application of the principles of scientific management to achieve efficiency and productivity), as well as increased U.S. exports, for its success.

On May 25, 1987, Hamilton plant workers walked out in their second strike in four years. They returned on August 20, after 12½ weeks. Despite the walkout, profits continued to rise that year.

In 1988, the company decided that it was going to focus more on major appliances (such as refrigerators, stoves, and dishwashers), and proceeded to sell the Orangeville air conditioner manufacturing plant. The next year Camco became the main supplier of dryers and dishwashers for its parent company, General Electric. However, this development benefitted the Montreal plant more than the Hamilton plant; the latter suffered slumping sales and excess inventory, prompting the managers to shut down the plant for three weeks, and lay off employees.

The company invested another large sum of money in the Hamilton plant, hoping to counteract sluggish domestic sales with a bigger piece of the export market. Despite the effort, the layoffs continued; at the end of 1991 only 900 employees worked at the Hamilton plant, as compared to 1,500 in 1984. In February of 1992, the union agreed to a shortened work week; workers' missed earnings would be offset by the Unemployment Insurance they would receive three days out of the week. James Fleck, current (July 2000) president of Camco, stands in front of a Hamilton plant building (click for a closer look)

Camco experienced a brief increase in sales in 1994, due to the North American Free Trade Agreement and an expanding Mexican appliance market. Nevertheless, by 1995 sales again decreased, and the cost of materials increased, forcing the company into yet another round of layoffs. The employee population in August dropped to only 700.

In 1999, the company embarked on what would be the "single largest investment in [its] 22-year history." (Hamilton Spectator, Feb. 26, 1999) Sixty million dollars were relegated to a new line of refrigerators that were expected to do well in the U.S. market. After an initial lag in sales (and consequent layoffs) the CustomStyle and HandiHite General Electric fridges became two of the most popular products produced by the company.

The headquarters of Camco, Incorporated were moved to Hamilton from Mississauga in May of 2000. In June, the company set up a consumer information website for potential customers.

According to the 1999 annual review, Camco has sales of $638.3 million and a workforce (in total) of approximately 2,200 people. After 23 years in existence, it continues to be the country's number one manufacturer of major appliances.



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