Donald Morphy and Charles Richards teamed up in 1936 to develop the first electric iron in the UK. Eighty years later, we continue to innovate a range of quality products for the modern household. No longer just available in the UK, Morphy Richards provides smart ideas for homes around the world.
It was in 1935 that appliances such as irons and toasters first made their way into people’s homes. However, these were luxury items, so the time was right to offer well designed electrical goods that fell within the average housewife’s budget. Seeing this opportunity, Donald Morphy teamed up with Charles Richards. The pair had worked together at an electric fire company, Morphy as an engineer and Richards as a salesman. But on 8th July 1936, they registered their new enterprises as a private company manufacturing and dealing in electrical, gas, radio and television equipment. The philosophy of the new company has changed little since that time. They set out to produce affordable, modern appliances for the mass market. Even the two-year guarantee is still a fundamental feature of every product that bears the Morphy Richards name.
A Running Start
Morphy and Richards went to work and the first appliance rolled off the production line at St Mary Cray, Kent in 1936. This 2kw radiant fire went into the shops at 17s 6d, seriously undercutting the competition by over 12 shillings. Their next product was an even bigger coup. 1937 saw the launch of an electric temperature controlled iron for £1 2s 6d, 15 shillings less than the average iron.
But Morphy Richard's success was down to design as much as cost. The Senior iron, from 1938, had a unique pilot light to indicate when the temperature was right for different fabrics. In fact, it’s a testament to such progressive styling that one of the current dry irons still bears some of the same design feature as the 1937 model.
Time Of Change
During the Second World War, Morphy Richards came under government contract to produce aircraft components. After this, the company began a programme of expansion into other areas and new products.
It was launched as a public company in 1947 and has soon merged with Astral, a Dundee-based firm that manufactured and sold spin dryers and refrigerators.
The Innovation Continues
A move into bigger appliances didn’t mean that Morphy Richards was losing interest in portable products. 1949 saw the advent of the UK’s first automatic toaster, with a 1,200 watt element for quick toasting and an adjustable switch for different levels of browning.
As modern as ever, the toaster used a bi-metallic strip, previously found only in irons. And although this luxury unit cost £4 4s, it was finished in chromium plate and black mouldings. This look has since become a classic and can still be found on today’s toasters and kettles.
Full Steam Ahead
The 1950’s saw Morphy Richards’ appliances far exceed the expectations of its two Managing Directors. Shoppers were lapping up an abundance of affordable, practical and desirable appliances.
Irons were a case in point. The new models featured bevelled soleplates for ironing around buttons and calibrated heat control, as well as pilot lights and comfortable grips. The Atlantic, unveiled at the 1951 Ideal Home Exhibition, was as big as 1937’s original Senior model, but weighed 1 3/4 lbs less.
1954 saw the first heat-controlled steam and dry iron. It had its own boiler and could provide 25 minutes of steam assisted ironing.
However, pioneering looks were just as important. The 1958 Ideal Homes Exhibitions boasted pillar box red versions of the new Senior and Atlantic irons.
The Biggest Range Yet
While they continued to develop the iron, Morphy Richards led the way with a host of new products. It produced its first hairdryer in 1953 and six years later claimed a 90% share of the market. The company also developed their first food mixers, Sheerline convectors, electric shavers, door chimes and foot operated rotary ironers around this time, as well as becoming the UK’s leading supplier of electric blankets by 1957.
All these products were distributed in the UK exclusively via wholesalers, while 40% of production was exported to 95 countries. Subsidiaries were established in Canada, Australia and South Africa; with some production moving overseas as well.
Such massive expansion was surely aided by Charles Richards’ commitment to undercutting the competition. In fact, “a Richards price” became wholesalers’ shorthand for the cheapest deal around.
By the end of the 1950’s a rift had begun to appear between Donal Morphy and Charles Richards. Morphy was reluctant to expand at such a vaste rate, whereas Richards felt frustrated by the lack of new products. In the end, Morphy sold his shares to EMI in 1960, prompting a take-over. Charles Richards joined GEC, heading their domestic appliance business in 1963.
New Managing Director Willis Roxburgh decided to place more emphasis on large domestic appliances, and in 1961 a second factory was opened in Dundee. This specialised in refrigerators, including the latest compressor models.
Meanwhile, the Morphy Richards Asreak refrigerator factory became the largest domestic appliances factory in Scotland.
...And Brand New Ranges
Even though Morphy Richards was no longer run by the men who gave their names to it, the spirit of innovation was still very much present. The company’s Silver Jubilee was celebrated with a host of new products, including a cylinder vacuum cleaner, Solway coal effect and Derwent radiant electric fires and a 6.8 cu ft compressor refrigerator.
Regional exhibitions launched more new designs. In 1962, we were given the Astral washing machine, capable of taking on 11lb load, Bliss electric blankets and compact fan heaters that had the same speed and volume of air circulation as larger models, but with a 6” fan.
Of course, Morphy Richards’ irons were as advanced as ever. The ‘60’s saw a push-button steam or dry iron, the polished chromium soleplate of the Super Steam, and the Atlantic 1,000 lightweight dry iron with a satin finished soleplate.
In fact, by the time the 20 millionth iron was produced in 1964, the St Mary Cray factory was producing 1,000 irons an hour, as opposed to 1,000 a week in 1938.
In Every Home in the Country
By 1972 BDA (incorporating Hotpoint, English Electric, GEC and Morphy Richards) had become the biggest manufacturer of electrical appliances in the UK. A turnover of £50 million a year was generated by 10,700 employees. And 45 million products were in homes across Britain, around two per household.
Two years later, the group became even bigger after merging with the Schreiber Furniture Organisation. However, the companies operated separately and in 1975, BDA changed its name to Hotpoint. (Although portable appliances were still marketed under the Morphy Richards banner).
From High Profits to Short Weeks
In 1974, this seemingly unassailable conglomerate came under threat. The introduction of a second rate of VAT on luxury goods, including electrical items, saw demand slump dramatically. Hours were cut at the Swinton factory from late 1975 and about half the workforce lost their jobs in spring 1976.
Morphy Richards’ new entrepreneur owner, Chlam Schreiber, treated the remaining staff to his unique management style. This included a wedding present scheme, a cut-price nursery and profit sharing. A staff suggestion scheme to help reduce costs or improve production generated cash prizes, including a £3,000 Ford Fiesta.
However, as Morphy Richards entered the ‘80’s, job cuts and short-time working continued. It was up to another company to step in and fill the breach.
Back In Style
In April 1982, Morphy Richards was sold for £5 million to Capital for Industry. CFI was a holding company owned by the Throgmorton Trust and decided to market Morphy Richards alongside Carmen, another of its acquisitions. And, despite recent hardships, the two companies managed a combined turnover of £30 million.
By 1983, joint brochures for Morphy Richards and Carmen showed a new awareness of contemporary style. Terracotta coloured irons formed the budget range, while the ‘Continental’ range was styled in white with brown handles and orange control buttons. Travel models came in fabric pouches, while toasters came in Wheatfield and Springfield patterns.
Innovation was back at the forefront, too. The company marketed radio cassettes and portable TVs, as well as the ‘Snack Bar’, which offered “ a whole lot more than your average sandwich toaster”.
A New Dawn with Glen Dimplex
In 1985, further recovery came after another take-over, Glen Dimplex, founded and run by Martin Naughton, had been operating since 1973. By 1987, they had a workforce of 5,000 and boasted an annual turnover of £300 million. Morphy Richards found itself alongside Glen Electric, Dimplex, Hamilton Beach, Burco Maxol, Blanella, Chilton and others. If there was anyone ideally suited to take charge of Morphy Richards it was Glen Dimplex. A leading worldwide manufacturer of electric heating and small domestic appliances, that work to the highest standards of quality, safety, efficiency and design. Inevitably, this combination of modern technology and fresh thinking was to take Morphy Richards into a new dimension. The Irish group continued with the existing redevelopment scheme, while their designers set about upgrading the product range. And in 1986, brand new offices and production facilities were formally opened by HRH the Duchess of Kent.
The Widest Range Ever
Innovation followed innovation throughout the ‘90s. Now you’ll find the Morphy Richards name on irons, kettles, sandwich toasters, coffee makers, deep fryers, trouser presses, heated trays and cookware. All of the items on this list are among the most advanced on the market.
1992 saw the launch of cool bodied toasters in one, two or four slot designs. Filtermaster kettles hit the shops the following year; their nylon filters stopped limescale particles from pouring out. And, in 1993, Morphy Richards made cleaning deep fryers easier when they released a model with a removable tank, creating a brand new sector within the market.
Style for Today and Tomorrow
As ever, the Morphy Richards look is as compelling as the design. In the ‘90s, they found success with a classic, yet revolutionary dark green livery on toasters, kettles and cookware. The company capitalised on this with blue, burgundy and yellow ranges.
With fashions changing faster than ever, Morphy Richards have kept ahead of the game during the late ‘90s with a second coloured product line, curvy kettles, conical kettles and Coolstyle toasters in pastel and bold colours such as lime green and cornflower blue. Meanwhile, the latest Conical kettle and Tokyo cookware range include mix and match elements of colour within the products.
The company has also pushed the boundaries when it comes to materials and finishes, including translucent finishes on kettle and iron water tanks. More than ever, customers are being encouraged to buy more desirable items, rather than just replace broken appliances.
Recent years have also seen a revival of classic looks; you can find pastel or chromium toasters and kettles that would look both alien and familiar to Donal Morphy and Charles Richards when they started the company in 1936.
In November 2000, following heavy rainfall affecting most of the country, the Mexborough site was flooded to a depth of two feet. Heroic efforts by all employees enable the business to run with minimum disruption. In reality it took several months for the buildings and infrastructure to return to normal.
Customer Service Centre Improvement
The Customer Service Centre was also destroyed and the opportunity was taken to completely re-build it incorporating new communications technology. The helpline was part of a strategy to provide new levels of customer support for Morphy Richards, Belling and Goblin as well as other group companies.
The Morphy Richards brand was introduced onto the Australian market in 2002. Morphy Richards is a highly respected and trusted innovator with stylish and contemporay products. Providing customers qith quality designed small appliances at the premium end of the Australian small appliance market.
In June the Morphy Richards UK site flooded again. This time the water rose to a height of over 1.6 metres. Morphy Richards was up and running again within a week of the floods albeit in temporary offices and warehouse space.
Morphy Richards are actively facing the challenge of a changing market place, constantly aware of the need to find innovative ways of meeting consumer needs as well as adapting to new methods of retail distribution. Currently more households in the UK have a Morphy Richards product than any other small appliance brand – Morphy Richards efforts are dedicated to a future where this will continue to be the rule.