The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Foerstner, George Christian
(November 8, 1908–January 17, 2000)

–industrialist, founder of Amana Refrigeration, proponent of microwave technology, and philanthropic supporter of the University of Iowa—was born in High Amana, one of the seven villages of the Amana Society, the son of William and Christine (Gernand) Foerstner. After completing an eighth-grade education, Foerstner worked for his father at the village store, which included an extensive sales route for car tires, batteries, radios, and bicycles. On August 22, 1932, Foerstner married Eleanora (Nora) Jeck of Middle Amana. Following the reorganization of the Amana Society from communal life in 1932, Foerstner became a traveling salesman for the society's woolen mills.

    Foerstner realized the potential market for beverage coolers created by the repeal of Prohibition. In 1934, using $3,500 of his savings, he began a business, the Electrical Equipment Company, selling and installing such units. In 1936 he and two backers sold the company to the Amana Society. Foerstner remained as manager of the firm, the Electrical Department of the Amana Society. Under his leadership, the department continued to install walk-in coolers in restaurants, taverns, and related businesses across the Midwest.

    During World War II, Amana filled several military contracts, building walk-in freezers and refrigerators and twice earning the coveted Army-Navy E Award for excellence in production. Despite a 1943 fire, the department continued to expand at its new location, the former Middle Amana Woolen Mill. Following the war, Foerstner directed the company toward production of home appliances, producing the first commercial upright freezer in 1947. Foerstner marketed his products aggressively with advertising featuring celebrities such as Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Groucho Marx, Gary Cooper, and Phil Silvers.

    In 1949 the Amana Society decided to sell the Electrical Department. Foerstner assembled a group of eastern Iowa industrialists, led by Howard Hall of Cedar Rapids, to buy the company. The new privately held firm, Amana Refrigeration, Inc., began life on January 1, 1950, with Hall as president and Foerstner as vice president and general manager. Under its new management, Amana Refrigeration expanded into home air conditioners and continued innovations in commercial and home refrigeration.

    On January 1, 1965, Raytheon Corporation purchased Amana Refrigeration to meet its need for an appliance distribution and Service network for the microwave oven that it was developing. Foerstner remained as president of Amana, which functioned as a largely autonomous subsidiary of Raytheon. By 1969 Amana had developed the Radarange, the first home microwave oven marketed in the United States. Foerstner was a well-known advocate for the microwave, defending it against early consumer warnings and working to cut costs in order to produce a practical, affordable model.

    Foerstner retired as chief executive officer at Amana Refrigeration in 1978 and as chairman in 1982. In retirement, he and his wife, Nora, divided their time between the century-old home overlooking the plant that they had moved into as newlyweds and a second home, in Bal Harbor, Florida.

    Although known as reserved and a tough taskmaster, Foerstner had strong personal loyalties. Associates often alluded to Foerstner's fierce sense of competition; his ability to accurately read the marketplace and predict trends; the personal attention he paid to products, quality, and staff; and his keen appreciation of the employment base he maintained for many small Iowa communities.

    In 1967 Foerstner, an avid competitive bridge player and golfer, and professional golfer Julius Boros initiated the Amana VIP golf tournament. The event, during which PGA golfers played a round of golf with celebrities and Amana dealers, was held at the Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City, and benefited the University of Iowa Athletic Department until the tournament was discontinued in 1990.

    A great sports fan, much of Foerstner's philanthropy benefited sports programs, including the University of Iowa "I Club" scholarship program. The George and Nora Foerstner Scholarship Foundation continues to provide college scholarships to the children of employees. Foerstner served as a director of Merchants National Bank, Cedar Rapids, and as a member of the Amana school board; the Amana Society board of directors; the board of Mercy Hospital, Cedar Rapids; and the advisory investment board of the Iowa Public Employees Retirement system. He was also a founding member of the Hoover Library Association.

    Foerstner received a number of honors, including the German Order of Merit from West Germany in 1959, an honorary doctorate from Cornell College in 1972, and the Friend of the University of Iowa Award in 1979. In 1985 he was inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame and was posthumously named to the Junior Achievement of East Central Iowa Business Hall of Fame in 2002.

    Foerstner died at his Florida home. Following the dictates of the Amana Church Society, he was buried, as are all church members, in chronological order in the Middle Amana Cemetery in a grave marked with a concrete slab bearing his name, date of death, and age. At the time of his death, Amana Appliances was a division of Goodman Manufacturing and employed more than 3,000 people at factories in Tennessee and Middle Amana.
Sources The Amana Heritage Society, Amana, Iowa, is the primary repository for Foerstner's papers, as well as materials relating to the history of Amana Refrigeration.
Contributor: Peter Hoehnle