Catalog Number
Date of Origin
June 1977
Thermotron employee newsletter, June 1977.
"Thermotron Industries was the brainchild of industrialist and inventor Charles F. “Chuck” Conrad, a refrigeration technician in Holland since 1948, who tinkered with low temperature refrigeration in his garage on West Twelfth Street and formed the Conrad Commercial and Industrial Refrigeration Company, later shortened to Conrad Inc. He built the actual test chambers at the IXL machine shop on Seventh Street at Pine Avenue. In 1951 Conrad obtained his first patent on a refrigeration system for test chambers that could reduce temperatures to minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit, copyrighted as the Cascade system. Six years later, in 1957, he sold Conrad Inc. to Crampton Manufacturing (see above). In 1962 Conrad and his wife Elsie, risk-takers at heart, ventured $1,000 to begin a company to manufacture thermoelectric heating and cooling devices, which he appropriately named Thermotron Industries. Although the thermoelectric devices were a dead end, Conrad soon developed environmental simulation chambers that captured most of the world market, thanks to a marketing agreement signed about 1970 with a Japanese manufacturer.43 42 For this and the previous paragraph, see Holland City News, 23, 30 Mar., 20 Apr., 4 May 1967; Holland Sentinel, 5 Jan. 1966, 17, 23 Mar., 19, 22 Apr., 2, 3, 9, May 1967; Holland City Directories, 1965-72. 43 Charles Conrad, “A Recap of Career Development,” typescript, 1991, JAH; Massie, The Holland Area: Warm Friends and Wooden Shoes (Northridge, CA: Windsor Publications, 1988), 112. I am indebted to Paul Den Uyl, a Thermotron division manager, for information in this and the following two paragraphs.
874 VAN RAALTE’S VISION In 1980 Chuck Conrad purchased the former Hekman Rusk plant at 400 West Eighteenth Street to house a Thermotron subsidiary, Crusader Industries, which manufactured kilns, and another division making vibration units for the chambers. Conrad also purchased the old Sugar Beet Factory next door to the main plant and the empty West Side Christian elementary school south and adjacent to the Rusk plant. The school housed Automatic Control Systems, which made the electronic controllers for the chamber systems; the Defense Products Division, which made military cooling units used on the Trident Submarine; and a division that made a mercury detection module. In 1977 the federal Small Business Administration gave the Defense Products Division the Midwest subcontractor of the year award. In 1980 Conrad sold Thermotron to Milwaukee-based Wehr Corporation for millions of dollars. Thermotron by then had grown to six local plants, five hundred employees, and a nationwide chain of offices. Within six months of the sale, Wehr released a number of executives and engineers, several of whom launched competing environmental companies: president John Sexton in Zeeland, vice president of sales Norm Rutgers in Grand Rapids, and several others in Byron Center. In 1981 Wehr’s Holland operations were consolidated into two large plants that manufactured an array of environmental control instruments. The primary plant is south of Thirty-Second Street near US-31 in the Southside Industrial Park (chapter 15), and the head offices are at 291 Kollen Park Drive. When Wehr sold the company to Milwaukee-based Venturedyne Ltd. in 1987, Thermotron was twice as large as any competitor and sold its testing devices around the world. In the 1990s company engineers developed vapor recovery systems demanded of factories by the 1990 Clean Air Act, and ultra-lowtemperature freezers to store specimens for life sciences laboratories. In 2010 the company employed 350 people in its two Holland plants under president Ronald Lampen. Thermotron’s knack for diversifying into new markets bodes well for its future."- pages 873-874, Van Raalte's Vision by Robert Swierenga.
Gift of
Den Uyl, Paul