Monday, February 4, 2013

American Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp.

I discovered this original cast iron boiler in the basement of an historic Detroit home.  Curious about how it operated, I did a little research.

Boiler systems operate simply:

1. A fuel like natural gas or oil is mixed with air and ignited inside the boiler.  (This boiler probably was fueled by coal and later converted to natural gas).

2. The water circulating through the boiler's heat exchanger is heated by the flame and combustion gases.

3. The heated water is circulated to radiators which heat the house.
Photo Credit

In order to maximize efficiency, the correct air and fuel mixture must be found.  In other words, finding the correct ratio between the amount of air and fuel added to the boiler will maximize the amount of heat transferred to the water. Three gases are generated during combustion: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Oxygen (O2). Too much air generates unburned oxygen, which will carry heat up the chimney. Too little air means incomplete combustion which generates poisonous CO gas and soot (which will clog the heat exchanger). The correct ratio will transfer all the combustion heat to the water and generate only CO2.

Modern boilers are rated by their annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE).  In Michigan, code requires all boilers to have a minimum AFUE of 90%.  The above boiler's efficiency was probably between 56% and 70%.

Imprinted on the door of the boiler are the words "American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Company ".  Per the brief history recounted below, this dates the boiler to at least 1967 when the company renamed itself "American Standard", but my guess is that it is probably much older.

 Planning your home for health and comfort with American Standard heating equipment and plumbing fixtures. (1950)

Brief History of American Radiator and Standard Sanitary (ARSS)

The history of ARSS begins in 1886 when Clarence Mott Woolley and his partner formed the Michigan Radiator & Iron Company of Detroit.  They would become makers of cast iron (rather than the more expensive steel) radiators.  The business immediately took off, introducing the world to radiant heat.  In 1891 the company merged with two other leading manufacturers of cast iron radiators, the Detroit Radiator Company and the Pierce Steam Heating Company of Buffalo, New York.  Woolley was only 28.

The Ideal fitter : American Radiators & Ideal boilers (1910)
The company would weather the economic depression of the 1890s by expanding into European markets.  By the 1920s, 40% of its revenue was generated overseas.  After World War I, Woolley hired architects John Howells and Raymond Hood to design and oversee the construction of his new world headquarters which still towers over Manhattan.

American Radiator Building - NYC 2012
Jean-Christophe Benoist
By 1929, Woolley planned a merger of the four largest building products corporation in the US: --H.W. Johns-Manville, Otis Elevator, Standard Sanitary, and American Radiator.  He was only able to complete a merger with Standard Sanitary, the nation's leading supplier of plumbing products.  Hence the name American Radiator and Standard Sanitary was born.

During the Great Depression, the company's sales were challenged by new forced-air heating technology.  The company met additional challenges as World War II cut into its European profits and new "direct-to-you" stores sold products directly to the consumer.  But the storms were weathered aided by a building boom that began after World War II.

Planning your home for health and comfort with
American-Standard heating equipment and plumbing fixtures. (1950) (pgs. 26-27)
But the company's survival also meant diversification into new markets such as industrial controls, plastics, heat-transfer equipment, and nuclear reactor construction.   To reflect this, the company changed its name in 1967 to "American Standard".

By the 1970s, the company was now moving away from its original heating business concentrating more on its railroad, truck brake, and mining equipment operations.

 First step to better plumbing and heating for your home. (1947)

Finally during the 1980s, the company returned to its plumbing and air conditioning roots by selling off most of its unrelated businesses.  In 1983, it completed a merger with the Trane Company the largest commercial air conditioning products company in the United States.

In 2007, American Standard announced plans to break up its three divisions – plumbing, air conditioning and automotive products – keeping only The Trane Company. American Standard’s plumbing products – and its name – were sold to Bain Capital Partners, LLC, and the original American Standard changed its name to Trane. Later that year, Ingersoll-Rand Company Limited acquired Trane for $10.1 billion.

Quite amazing roots for a small Detroit radiator company that began in 1880s.



  1. You had a very good research. :) Thanks for sharing this information. -

  2. Very interesting, thank you for sharing! My Great- grandparents were from Detroit. My Grandfather ran the American Radiator factory in London during WWII. During the war, they converted the factory to make bullet and bomb casings for the U.S. and British military.

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