Viking Range Corporation was founded by Fred Carl, Jr., a fourth generation building contractor, as a speculative venture aimed at developing the first commercial-type range specifically designed, engineered and certified for home use.
The idea of developing a commercial-type range for home use resulted from Carl noticing the increasing use of commercial ranges in residential kitchens during the late 1970s. Recognizing the need for such a product became even more apparent when Carl was designing and building his new home in 1980. The typical stainless steel restaurant range strongly appealed to Carl and his wife wanted a heavy-duty, classic looking range like her mother's old Chambers, which had long been out of production.
As he considered the possibility of using a standard commercial range in their home, Carl became convinced that restaurant ranges were definitely not designed for home use. Among the numerous disadvantages which made those undesirable and impractical for installation in a residential kitchen were: high heat output and extremely hot surface temperatures, no safety features, excessive energy consumption, constantly burning standing pilot instead of automatic ignition, no broiling in the oven, and dimensions which were not designed for typical residential cabinetry.
Carl became convinced that the ideal solution would be a hybrid range that would combine the most desirable features of both a commercial range and the old Chambers range his wife so badly wanted. This left him with a dilemma - he realized both he and his wife wanted something that didn't exist. But he also saw this as an opportunity. If no one was making such a product, why shouldn't he? So he decided to pursue the idea of creating the world's first heavy duty, commercial-type range for the home.
Carl first conducted a thorough design analysis to identify all the advantages and disadvantages of commercial ranges. 1n 1981 and 1982, while operating his design/build construction company, he used any spare time he had to prepare conceptual drawings and developed detailed specifications which eliminated all the shortcomings of a commercial range for home use while including all their advantages. High performance cooking, large capacity, heavy duty construction and professional styling were all key elements of his design. Carl then added all the desirable features of a high-end residential range, such as automatic ignition, in-the-oven broiling, convenient controls, ample insulation to decrease exterior temperatures and heat output into the kitchen, standard widths and depths to accommodate typical residential cabinetry, and various other functional and cosmetic improvements. To achieve the look of the old Chambers, he included the option of a brilliant white finish in his specifications.
In preparation for taking his product to market, Carl then began establishing the business structure of the venture. In late 1983, with the assistance of a local advertising agency, he named the new company and its product "Viking". Carl incorporated Viking Range Corporation on March 22, 1984. The challenge of pioneering and developing the very first commercial-type range for the home had officially begun.
Carl began presenting his drawings and specifications to various commercial range manufacturers, seeking a partner that would aid him in developing and producing a commercial-type range for home use. After being turned down by virtually every major restaurant range manufacturer in the industry, Carl ultimately persuaded a southern California company to assist him with the engineering and to carry out the manufacturing of the first Viking range.
The engineering and certification process of the first Viking range spanned a period of more than three years. Being a hybrid of both commercial and residential equipment, Carl¿s Viking range was the first such range to ever be submitted to the American Gas Association laboratories for certification. Because no such product had ever existed or been tested, AGA approval involved over a year of extensive testing and evaluation, including the creation of several new testing criteria. AGA certification was finally obtained in late 1986, and 20 test and sample units were produced in October and November of that year. Normal production of the world's first commercial-type range for home use finally began in January, 1987.
The unanticipated volume and growth experienced by Viking quickly overwhelmed the capacity and capabilities of the California manufacturer and production was subsequently moved to a household appliance manufacturer in eastern Tennessee that was more accustomed to larger volumes. Although this company provided some degree of improvement, various problems and challenges persisted which were beyond Carl's control and he knew another change had to be made.
Therefore, in October of 1989, Viking began preparations for manufacturing its own product line in Carl's hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi, located in the historic Mississippi Delta. By February of 1990, the first Viking-produced range top went into production. Production of the 48-inch range followed in April, and by July 1990, all models were in production in Greenwood. For the first time Viking assumed full responsibility for the in-house manufacture of its own product line.
In July 1992, Stephens Inc., a Little Rock, Arkansas, investment banking firm (www.stephens.com
), made a major equity investment in Viking Range Corporation. Carl's new partnership with Stephens allowed Viking to accelerate its rapid growth and to further expand its product line and manufacturing capabilities to keep pace with the increasing demand for its high quality products.
The original Viking manufacturing facility in Greenwood was located in a 35,000 sq. ft. former distribution warehouse (which had been built by Carl's father in the 1950's) and served the company's needs for about two years. However, increased volume and the addition of new products soon stretched the capacity of this small manufacturing facility. In 1992, the decision was made to move to a larger 100,000 sq. ft. plant to accommodate the continued growth of the company. This facility, located on what is now Viking Road, has been enlarged several times in the past few years to approximately 240,000 sq. ft. and is now the Viking cooking products manufacturing plant.
In 1986, the Viking corporate offices were moved from Carl¿s cramped construction company office to a partially renovated building on the bank of the Yazoo River in the historic Cotton Row District of downtown Greenwood. As the company continued to grow, Carl expanded his offices within this building and soon filled it. Committed to staying in downtown Greenwood, he then began buying adjoining buildings to house the growing company. The Viking corporate headquarters now consists of a collection of historic buildings totaling over 50,000 square feet. All of the downtown buildings are original structures of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and several have received historic preservation awards from the Mississippi Heritage Trust as well as the National Trust for Historic Preservation Award for commercial district revitalization.