Originally created 04/21/01

Old unit prevails for prize



Chuck Sozio always knew his 77-year-old Frigidaire refrigerator was unique. But he never knew it would be a contest winner.

Augusta-based Electrolux Home Products, the maker of Frigidaire products, said the Boston-area appliance dealer owns the oldest operating Frigidaire refrigerator in North America.

"It makes the best ice cubes I've ever seen," said Mr. Sozio, commenting on the large, 11/2-inch cubes produced by its ice tray. "They're like miniature blocks of ice. You put one of those in a drink, and it's going to stay cold a long time."

The contest, which attracted more than 5,300 entries after it started in December, ends as Electrolux Home Products is set to unveil its "next generation" appliances at the national Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Orlando, Fla.

The new line, resulting from $200 million worth of research and factory retooling, represents the most energy-efficient and stylish models the company has produced, said Mark Chambers, the company's vice president of marketing.

"This is the first redesign in probably 15 years," he said. "There has been face-lifts along the way, but this is the first in terms of new from the ground up."

While Mr. Sozio's sulphur dioxide-cooled, wooden fridge was typical of the era, the new Frigidaires borrow heavily on the European influences of the Augusta company's parent, Sweden-based Electrolux AB.

Aside from a softer look, the refrigerators boast new electronic features and the company's new Pure Source water filtration system. Frigidaire's roots go back to 1915, when Alfred Mellowes invented the first self-contained refrigerator in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Mr. Mellowes' Guardian Frigerator brand was changed to Frigidaire in 1918. The company was owned by General Motors Corp. until it was purchased by a forerunner of Electrolux Home Products in 1979.

Mr. Sozio uses his model, which was first sold at Boston's Home Beautiful Exposition in 1924, to supplement his modern unit. It has been serviced only once - in 1940.

"It still maintains a perfect temperature," he said. "The compressor is so quiet, you can't hear it running."

Regional runners-up in the contest include Simpsonville, S.C., resident William Allison, who owns a 1930 model. The unit was a gift from his wife's father, who purchased it from a appliance dealer in Clearwater, Fla.

Records show the unit was originally sold to a wealthy homeowner in Bellaire, Fla., in 1930, making it one of the first refrigerators in the Tampa Bay area.

There were also several honorable mentions. One went to Commerce, Ga., resident Patsy Fountain, whose commercial-size icebox could not be dated.

The wooden, glass-door unit kept contents cool using large blocks of ice. It was in service for decades at the former Tucker General Store in Commerce. She keeps the huge box on her back porch but plans to move it inside and convert it to a knickknack shelf, or possibly an entertainment center.

The 58-year-old self-described "farmer's daughter" doubts she will ever sell it. The old box reminds her of the Macon County farm where she was raised, she says.

"We had a plain, wood icebox. We were poor, I suppose," she said. "The ice man would come and take big ice blocks out of the truck. He would break off little chips for all the kids."

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or bized@augustachronicle.com.