Photo by Richard Hurd
Sub-Zero Freezer Company Celebrates 75 Years of Premier American Manufacturing
Third-Generation, Family-Owned Appliance Company Pioneered Industry Innovations and Has Thrived With Strategic Acquisition and Thoughtful Expansion
Madison, Wis. (August 20, 2020) – This month marks the 75th birthday of one of the most storied brands in American manufacturing. Sub-Zero began as an engineering challenge for Westye F. Bakke – fighting to find a way to store his son’s insulin at a consistent temperature – and involved several years of helping architect Frank Lloyd Wright customize refrigerators to fit his infamous design style. The Sub-Zero Freezer Company was officially formed on August 20, 1945, in Madison, Wisconsin.
Sub-Zero Group, Inc., as it is known today, has trailblazed technological and design innovation across dozens of product lines over the decades – not only within the refrigeration space, but with the development of its Wolf cooking line and the recent launch of its Cove dishwashing brand.
In 1972, Westye Bakke handed the company reins to son Bud Bakke, who spearheaded the creation of a new, lightweight, all-aluminum freezer – an upright model with separate inside doors rather than a top-opening chest freezer. He also led development of the built-in refrigerator unit, which changed the future of kitchen design by fitting within surrounding counter and cabinet space.
Bud’s son, Jim Bakke, was named CEO in 1992. Facing aggressive category growth and competition from full-line manufacturers, he recognized the need for Sub-Zero to expand beyond its mainstay of refrigeration. Jim and his team worked to develop a residential cooking line and bought the brand rights to the Wolf name, a primarily commercial-focused brand known for its recognizable red knobs. The company introduced 13 new Wolf products from 2001 to 2004 and grew to five times its initial size over the next decade. Jim Bakke also led the development of the dishwashing line Cove, which debuted in 2019, and has entrenched the iconic Sub-Zero brand with considerable enhancements and expanded Wolf’s dominance with next-generation cooking products. Jim still leads the company to this day from its headquarters in Madison.
“Customers reach out to us all the time. Their Sub-Zero units are 30, sometimes 40 years old and still going strong. We are keenly aware of our heritage and see it as our obligation to be the specialists in not only refrigeration but in cooking and cleaning products for the kitchen – and in whatever we do in the next 75 years,” says CEO Jim Bakke.
The company’s senior vice president of marketing and innovation, Tim McDonough, has this to say about the milestone: “This is a company that is passionate about the role its appliances play in the lives, and kitchens, of homeowners. We’re continually looking for ways to bring new, intelligent approaches to the table, and we manufacture them to last for generations.”
Sub-Zero Group’s impact on the kitchen appliance industry is marked with numerous “firsts,” including:
- 1943: Westye F. Bakke built his first freestanding freezer prototype out of salvaged scrap metal in his basement. Bakke bent the unit’s coils barehanded and improvised any materials that were lacking because supplies were scarce during World War II.
- 1945: Bakke founded Sub-Zero Freezer Company in Madison, Wisconsin. The Sub-Zero name was chosen because its freezers were the first to meet the strict quality standards for below-zero safety in freezing food.
- 1955: Sub-Zero pioneered dual refrigeration – separate, sealed systems for the refrigerator and freezer.
- Late 1950s: Sub-Zero changed the built-in refrigeration category by introducing the first-ever cabinet-flush unit. The company also modified built-in design to allow for recessed fronts. This enabled the complete customization of each unit to match the kitchen’s overall décor. The refrigerator, once considered the least attractive appliance in American kitchens, became an elegant and beautiful workhorse.
- 1990s: Revolutionary integrated designs, another Sub-Zero first, made refrigeration units blend seamlessly into kitchen décor.
- 1993: Sub-Zero kicked off its inaugural Kitchen Design Contest to recognize talented designers who utilize Sub-Zero appliances to rethink what is possible for the kitchen.
- 2000: Sub-Zero expanded its expertise in the kitchen with the acquisition of Wolf, a legend in commercial kitchens. Now the brand offers residential ranges, ovens, cooktops and ventilation with performance power that home cooks have never experienced before.
- 2005: The PRO 48 professional-style refrigeration unit, a monument to food preservation, was unveiled. The PRO 48 keeps food fresher longer with dual refrigeration and is crafted out of stainless steel, inside and out.
- 2006: Wolf revealed its first dual fuel range: gas cooking above, dual convection electric ovens below.
- 2008: Sub-Zero introduced an antimicrobial air purification system based on NASA technology. The technology scrubs the air of ethylene gas as well as mold, viruses and bacteria that cause foods to spoil.
- 2013: Sub-Zero and Wolf introduced a new generation with the biggest new-product rollout in the company’s history. Seventy new appliances. Exclusive technologies. Novel décor possibilities.
- 2018: Sub-Zero and Wolf launched state-of-the-art dishwashers under the brand name Cove, completing the trifecta of kitchen appliances. Cove units are engineered with the same commitment to quality and innovation shared by Sub-Zero and Wolf, and Cove similarly serves as a single-focus kitchen specialist.
About Sub-Zero Group, Inc.
Sub-Zero Group, Inc., headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, manufactures best-in-class appliance brands Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove. Founded in 1945, Sub-Zero, Inc., is the leading American-based manufacturer of refrigeration, freezer and wine storage products. Sub-Zero, the preservation specialist, pioneered the concept of dual refrigeration, ensuring that food stays fresher longer. With the acquisition of Wolf Range Company in 2000, Sub-Zero Group, Inc., added the industry specialist in residential cooking appliances, with products including ranges, cooktops, wall ovens, warming drawers and ventilation equipment. In 2018, Sub-Zero Group, Inc., launched the Cove brand of dishwashers, the specialist in all things clean. Cove joins Sub-Zero and Wolf, establishing the brands as corporate companions and a complete kitchen family. In its third generation of family ownership, the privately held company also operates manufacturing facilities in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, and Goodyear, Arizona. Sub-Zero Group, Inc., is continually recognized for the highest achievements in appliance innovation and customer satisfaction. For more information about Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove, visit subzero-wolf.com or follow us at Facebook.com/subzerowolf, on Twitter @subzerowolf or on Instagram @subzeroandwolf. For Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove Customer Care, call 800-222-7820.