Last updated on November 5th, 2023
From its humble beginnings in 1934 as a small New Zealand enterprise importing refrigerators, Fisher & Paykel has evolved into a global leader in appliance and healthcare technology. This timeline offers a comprehensive overview of the company’s fascinating history, spanning nearly nine decades of innovation, expansion, and transformation.
Discover the key milestones that shaped Fisher & Paykel’s trajectory, from its early days as an importer to its ventures into manufacturing, healthcare, and international markets. Explore how the company navigated challenges, adapted to changing circumstances, and contributed to industry advancements.
Join us as we unveil the captivating story of Fisher & Paykel, a testament to the spirit of entrepreneurship, ingenuity, and resilience that has driven this company’s success.
Fisher & Paykel’s was conceived in 1934, when two close friends, Woolf Fisher and Maurice Paykel, successfully sold surplus refrigerators originally imported by Paykel’s family business, Paykel Brothers. It all began when Olive Paykel requested her husband, George Paykel, to import a novel appliance – a Crosley refrigerator – which she had come across in the American Ladies’ Home Journal. Drawing on his experience as an importer, George brought in 22 of these refrigerators and eager buyers were easily found. The demand for these appliances led to the establishment of a burgeoning appliance importation enterprise, co-operated by Olive’s son, Maurice Paykel, and her son-in-law, Woolf Fisher. Thus, Fisher & Paykel was founded in Auckland, New Zealand, with a focus on importing Crosley refrigerators, Maytag washing machines, and Pilot mantle radios. With financial contributions from other family members, they opened their first office and showroom on the mezzanine floor of Queen’s Arcade, Auckland. At this nascent stage of appliance retailing, the fledgling firm supplemented its income by securing agencies for various other products, including record players, vacuum cleaners, irons, and toasters.
In response to the New Zealand government’s ban on the importation of manufactured products, which posed a threat to their business, Fisher & Paykel took a proactive approach by establishing a factory to assemble appliances from parts obtained under license from companies like the American manufacturer, Kelvinator Corporation. Although it was no longer permissible to import fully assembled appliances, there was a legal loophole that allowed for the importation of their constituent parts, with onshore assembly.
The outbreak of World War II brought some unexpected advantages to the burgeoning manufacturer. As washing machines and refrigerators were classified as essential industries, Fisher & Paykel’s business was shielded from closure due to material shortages or loss of staff. Consequently, they were able to expand their operations and relocate to larger, two-story premises on Carlaw Park Lane. By 1949, the company was producing 600 washing machines, 500 refrigerators, and 700 vacuum cleaners per month, struggling to keep up with the demand from retailers.
Fisher & Paykel commenced the manufacture of their first homegrown appliance, the Whiteway Washing Machine, as well as refrigerators.
The installation of the first washing machine conveyor line marked a significant milestone in their production process.
The initial phase of the Mt Wellington plant commenced the production of refrigeration and laundry products.
A new 48,000 square-foot, purpose-built factory was unveiled in Mt Wellington. Within just four years, fueled by fresh product launches and an extensive network of over 200 dealers exclusively marketing Fisher & Paykel products throughout New Zealand, the factory’s workforce expanded to 600 employees. The manufacturing of rotary clothes dryers, designed and patented by the company, also commenced. Fisher & Paykel acquired the cooking range manufacturer H. E. Shacklock Ltd, a dominant figure in the New Zealand domestic market dating back to 1873. Over time, the Shacklock brand was phased out.
Allied Industries Ltd was established to manufacture Murphy radios and radiograms, which later served as the precursor to Fisher & Paykel Electronics.
Fisher & Paykel inaugurated their London office.
Allied Industries ventured into the manufacturing of TV receivers. Maurice Paykel, the son of Gary Paykel, joined Fisher & Paykel, introducing the concept of flexible manufacturing, which significantly enhanced efficiency. This approach enabled multiple products to be produced on the same assembly line, a stark contrast to competitors who could produce only a single model per production line. As a result, assembly time for a freezer, for instance, was reduced from 25 hours to just five hours.
Fisher & Paykel signed an agreement with Matsushita Electric (Panasonic) for sole distributorship in New Zealand.
The company’s headquarters relocated to Mt Wellington. Additionally, Champion Spark Plug New Zealand was established, and Allied Industries initiated the manufacturing of Waikato electric fence controllers.
Allied Industries began manufacturing television tubes, while the origins of what would become Fisher & Paykel Healthcare trace back to the development of the first respiratory humidifier, created by Dr. Matt Spence, Alf Melville, and Dave O’Hare.
Fisher & Paykel’s first respiratory humidifier was sold and marketed internationally.
An agreement with Matsushita Electric (Panasonic) was signed for the marketing and eventual manufacture of National Panasonic products.
The East Tamaki refrigerator manufacturing plant was inaugurated.
The company celebrated the production of its one millionth refrigerator and one millionth laundry unit. Allied Industries constructed a new factory in Mangere.
Sir Woolf Fisher passed away, leading to the appointment of Maurice Paykel as chairman and managing director. The Fisher & Paykel Group, now under the leadership of managing director Don Rowlands and chairman Maurice Paykel, comprised nine wholly-owned companies and nine subsidiaries, encompassing white goods and appliance manufacturing, a cartage company, a tool-making company, a finance firm, television manufacturing, cabinetmaking, spark plug manufacturing, and service companies.
Fisher & Paykel Customer Services Ltd was established, and Don Rowlands was appointed general manager, subsequently becoming managing director. The assembly of National Panasonic televisions was also initiated.
The Medical Division was established.
Fisher & Paykel was listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange with a capital value of 40 million NZD.
The company reached the milestone of exporting one million appliances.
H.E. Shacklock Ltd became wholly owned, and the Microcomputer Electronic Company was established. A shareholding in Henderson & Pollard was also acquired.
Fisher & Paykel Medical established its presence in the United States. Applied Technology (Healthcare) was transferred to National Allied at Carbine Road.
Fisher & Paykel celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, introducing refrigerators that received the Prince Philip Design Award. The MR500 Medical Humidifier was a finalist for the Prince Philip Design Award. The company also acquired a 50% interest in Isothermal Systems Inc.
The company launched the ECS Electronic Control Systems washing machine, known as “Gentle Annie,” marking the world’s first use of a brushless DC motor in a washing machine. Gentle Annie was introduced following five years of intensive development. It featured electronic control systems, eliminating the traditional gearbox of alternative models for quieter and more reliable functionality. The year also saw the introduction of the Prince Philip Award Series refrigerators, manufactured on a new highly automated plant line. This product line expansion included new ranges of wall ovens, dishwashers, and freezers.
The official opening of the range and dishwasher division’s new building took place at Taieri, Dunedin.
The Fisher & Paykel Appliance brand was launched in Australia. Equiticorp acquired a major shareholding (23% at $5 per share). Fisher & Paykel also acquired the Australian medical distribution company Medcor, now known as Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Pty Ltd. Furthermore, Fisher & Paykel Electronics Ltd was created, formerly known as the Allied Products Division.
Fisher & Paykel introduced the New Zealand maxi yacht, participating in the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race.
Construction commenced on the first major appliance facility offshore in Cleveland, Queensland, Australia. Equiticorp’s 30% shareholding was transferred to friendly investors. The Medical Division was renamed the Healthcare Division.
The production of the first Australian-manufactured refrigerator took place. The Electronic Division ceased the assembly of color televisions. The company also sold its investment in New Zealand Steel to the BHP Steel consortium, and the medical division was renamed Fisher and Paykel Healthcare.
New plants were inaugurated at East Tamaki and Cleveland. The SmartDrive autowasher was introduced. International sales exceeded 30% of trading revenue. Gentle Annie was voted Product of the Year, and Fisher & Paykel received the Supplier of the Year award for the second consecutive year from the Australian Appliance Industry in Mingay’s magazine.
1992 – 1993
International sales increase by 54% to exceed $200m for the first time. Whitegood sales in Australia exceed 150,000 units. Launch of Fisher & Paykel brand in the European market at Domo-technica Appliance Trade Fair, Cologne, Germany.
1994 – 1995
Fisher & Paykel exports to over 80 countries. Healthcare international sales at over 90% of Healthcare turnover. Whitegood sales in New Zealand increase to 260,000 units. Elimination of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) as refrigerants and blowing gases ahead of their discontinuation by 1996 under the Montreal Protocol.
1997 – 1998
DishDrawer, the unique compartmentalized drawer dishwasher launched. Fisher and Paykel Healthcare now contributing 50% of company profit and exporting 95% of its production.
1998 – 1999
Preparations began for major restructuring to split Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and Appliances. The medical division had proved increasingly profitable and by the first half of 1997-98, contributed 50% of the company profit and exported over 95% of its production. The split precipitated a re-organisation of Fisher & Paykel Appliances. Ending a 30-year-old relationship with Japanese appliance giant, Matsushita, Fisher & Paykel quit its distributorship of National, Technics, and Panasonic products, refocusing the company into three business units – Whitegoods, Healthcare and Finance, and dispensing with the previous divisionalised structure.
Record group profit of $54.4m, exceeds $50m for the first time. International revenue of $551.4m exceeds 70% of total trading revenue. Healthcare revenue grows by 20.8% to exceed $140m for the first time.
Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd and Fisher & Paykel Appliances Holdings Ltd become 2 separately listed companies on 12 November 2001. The more concentrated direction appeared profitable for the firm. Spearheading export activities with further new product innovations such as EcoSmart washing machines and DishDrawers, by 2004, the year in which Fisher & Paykel Appliances celebrated 70 years of business, revenue from appliance exports had increased to 71 percent of total revenue.
Maurice Paykel dies.
In October 2004, Dynamic Cooking Systems Inc (DCS), a US-based company specializing in outdoor and indoor cooking products is acquired – making a new suite of products available in Australia and New Zealand. Global alliance entered into with appliance brand Whirlpool. One million appliances manufactured in 2004.
Elba purchased from De’Longhi for EUR78 million to allow for European expansion of the brand.
Fisher and Paykel ends its Australian manufacturing business with the closure of its Cleveland factory in Brisbane’s eastside as part of a strategy to concentrate its manufacturing in Thailand, Mexico, and Italy.
Fisher and Paykel acquired by the Chinese-based Haier Group with a share buyout and compulsory acquisition. Fisher & Paykel Appliance Holdings Ltd is delisted from the Australian and New Zealand Stock exchanges.
The closure of Fisher Paykel’s last major appliance factory in NZ is announced, completing an offshoring process begun in 2007. All appliances now manufactured in South East Asia, and China.