OUR STORY BEGINS
Innovation has always been our primary driver, even before we opened our doors in 1945. Our founder, Mr. Herbert E. Mills, gained an intimate understanding of the appliance industry while working with several oven manufacturers from the late 1920s to the beginning of World War II. He used this knowledge to design and patent the world’s first oven door window.
The high demand for oven windows led Mr. Mills to open the Mills Engineering Company in 1945, where he produced oven door windows in the family basement for major appliance manufacturers such as Grand Home Appliance Company.
By 1950, steady sales of oven door windows allowed Mr. Mills to move operations to a 23,000 square foot building in Walled Lake, Michigan. Two years later, Mills Engineering became today’s Mills Products, Inc.
1960 TO 1980: INNOVATION NEEDS SPACE
Mills Products’ continued to grow and innovate following its early successes in oven door manufacturing. In 1960, Mills Products acquired Sta-BritePlating of Wayne, Michigan, which added about 18,000 square feet of factory space and created an opportunity for entry into the nickel-chrome plating industry. Mr. Mills also introduced new designs in appliance handles, eye-level oven doors and decorative trim.
With these new designs, Mr. Mills was once again in need of more manufacturing space.
Plans for a new 100,000 square foot building began in 1964. A site in Farmington, Michigan was selected, and the construction of the new facility was completed in 1966, with plans for the Wayne and Walled Lake plants to relocate to the new Farmington factory. Tragically, Mr. Mills passed away in March, 1965 and never saw the completion of his new factory.
A true entrepreneurial pioneer and innovator, Mr. Mills created more than 40 additional patents, including space heaters, gas ignition systems, flair guns for the U.S. military and various types of fishing tackle.
1950S TO 70S: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
At the end of World War 11, Mr. Mills’ son – Mr. Vernon Mills – worked closely with his father to direct the company’s growth through the 1950′ and 1960’s. Upon the passing of Mr. Mills Sr., Mr. Vernon Mills assumed his father’s position as president of the company, leading Mills Products, Inc. into increased expansion.
Sales in Canada from the Farmington factory were growing substantially. In 1968, Mills Appliance Products, Ltd. was founded near Toronto in the city of Bramalea, Ontario, Canada – manufacturing and selling oven door windows to the Canadian appliance industry. The Canadian company operated until it was reunited with the Farmington factory in 1979.
Mr. Vernon Mills served as president until his tragic death in 1971. Following his passing, Messrs. George T. Mash and Mr. John R. Wright were appointed as the first two presidents outside of the Mills family. Following Mr. Wright’s retirement in 1978, Mills Products, Inc. was once again led by family members with the appointment of Mr. Bob D. and Vernon H. Mills as President and Executive Vice President, respectively, both grandsons of the company founders.
1980S: EXPANSION INTO NEW MARKETS
The glass processing business was a very important technology at Mills because of the vast amount of tempered and decorated glass used in the manufacturing of oven door windows and eye-level doors. The ability to produce tempered glass provided new direction and opportunities, and a new business was established using current knowledge.
In 1982, Perma View Processed Glass was opened in Clarksville, Tennessee. It took its name from Mr. Herbert E. Mills’ trademark for the first oven door window, “Perma View.” At the time, this division operated the latest in glass-processing equipment that the world had to offer. Glass from Perma View was shipped to appliance manufacturers for multiple applications, including cooking appliances, outdoor barbecue grills and refrigerators, as well as other industry applications.
After continued growth and an expansion in 1988, including the installation of a second state-of-the-art tempering furnace, the Perma View division was sold to Gemtron Corporation, the largest supplier of flat glass products to the North American appliance industry. Today, the former Perma View plant still operates in Clarksville, TN.
MID 80S: SETTING NEW APPLIANCE INDUSTRY STANDARDS
1985 marked an important year for growth in the appliance industry. In an effort to change its appliance styling to a more European look, the industry required suppliers to provide durable painted-metal trim parts and reduce the requirements for chrome-plated components.
Mills accepted this challenge and installed a new powder coating system in the Farmington division, where more than half of the production time on the powder coating line was devoted to the coating of automotive component parts. Mills quickly developed a reputation in the automotive and appliance industries for excellent service and producing high-quality powder coated parts from the Farmington plant.
During the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s, the appliance industry – through acquisitions and mergers – consolidated its manufacturing operations. By the end of the 1980’s, approximately 85% of all the domestic cooking ranges were produced between Findlay, Ohio and Lafayette, Georgia. Because of the shift, Mills needed to relocate its manufacturing to a more centralized site to maintain its market in appliance handles, trim and oven door windows.
LATE 80S, EARLY 90S: EXPANSION INTO MEXICO
In 1989, the Athens, Tennessee location was selected as the site of the company’s new manufacturing facility, and by October, 1990, all appliance handles and trim were being manufactured at the Athens plant. 1992 arrived with all production fully relocated from Farmington, Michigan to the Athens plant. Today, this plant serves appliance manufacturers located in Canada, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela.
During the 1990’s, a percentage of major appliance manufacturing was moved to Mexico, and transportation costs for components manufactured by quality suppliers located in the United States became excessive. Mills, once again, met this challenge by opening a new manufacturing plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico in 1998. This new facility supplies roll formed and powder coated handles and trim parts to appliance manufacturers located in Mexico.
MILLS PRODUCTS TODAY
Following its normal course of leading the industry with new and innovative ideas, Mills became the sole licensee of a metal forming process utilizing water. The new process, known as Hydroforming, allows metal to be formed using water under high pressure to form sheet or tubular metal, and can be used extensively to manufacture multiple appliance component parts. Also, the hydroforming of tubes enables Mills to offer single-piece appliance handles that can be powder coated to customers requirements. The use of steel allows for much better quality and durability over plastics and is much more cost effective than die casting or plastic molded parts.
Although the original oven window products first patented by Mr. Herbert E. Mills have changed substantially over the past four decades, the basic business capabilities of Mills Products, Inc. remain. Manufacturing appliance handles, trim and window assemblies require expertise in metal fabricating and finishing. With capabilities in metal fabrication, hydroforming and roll forming, assembly and the powder coating of fabricated metal parts, Mills Products is well poised to serve its growing customer base.