The Dishwasher King

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, PM, FMLR

      "I call him Sammy."  

Bro. Sam Regenstrief
      My dad was driving me home close to the end of my senior year in college.  I had drifted off; or maybe I was just daydreaming.  Whatever the case I hadn't heard what he was saying and I shot back the uber-intelligent response you might expect from someone about to graduate from college, "Huh?"

      "Sam Regenstrief," said Dad, "He bought our company.  He's a real powerhouse... one of the richest guys in the state... been everywhere... done everything... used to be a big shot at Philco.  Before he came on board, one of our engineers said he invented the dishwasher."

      "Cool," said the articulate near-graduate.

      "Well, he didn't," said Dad, "He perfected it.  I guess those things used to leak all over the place and just didn't work right.  Sammy fixed all that, invented some sort of timing device for them and started manufacturing them in Connersville.  He pretty much cornered the market... made a fortune.  They even call him 'The Dishwasher King.'"  Dad went on to explain that people were a little nervous about the new tycoon roaming the halls.  Conversations had even speculated on what they should call the new boss: Sam, Sammy, Mr. R, Mr. Regenstrief or whatever.  Dad was one of the top guys in the company and had decided to dispense with any formality.  Sammy it was.  Fact is, though, that's probably the name Sam Regenstrief preferred.

      Dad's company, Wallace Expanding Machines, had started out as a small tool and die company in Indianapolis.  My dad, Robert (Noblesville Lodge #57, Indiana), was a corporate officer, one of the few shareholders and served as purchasing agent.  As the company grew, its engineers invented and patented a way of expanding metal without exceeding tensile strength specifications and a whole bunch of other things I don't know much about.  Along with that, the company developed "The Expander," a gargantuan machine to do the job.  The Expander could stamp out all kinds of widgets from a cylinder of metal fed into it.  In goes a cylinder and... voilĂ ... out comes four Ford car doors.  Or, in goes a cylinder and out comes a complete dishwasher body.  And that was what Sammy was interested in, and that's why he bought the company.

      Dad was right.   Sam Regenstrief had quite a track record.   Born in eastern Europe in about 1906, he moved to the US with his family two years later.  He studied at Indiana University, then transferred to the Baum School of Engineering in Milwaukee, staying there until the school folded.  A series of jobs led him to Rex Manufacturing in Connersville, Indiana, where he began to make his mark.  Rex, a supplier of steel refrigerator cabinets, was in serious financial trouble.  Sam turned the company around and by the age of 29, was running the show.  Instead of just manufacturing refrigerator cabinets, he soon had Rex making complete refrigerators and selling them to, among others, Philco.  He did such a good job Philco bought Rex and made it a subsidiary with Sam as president.

      A few years later most thought Sam, by then a Philco corporate Vice President, was on track to become its President.  Instead, in 1958, he left the corporate giant and started his own company, Design and Manufacturing (D&M), in Connersville.  There, he earned his Dishwasher King title, transforming the household dishwasher from a piece of near-junk into the modern appliance most of us use today.  That alone would be enough, but there is more to his story.

      Sam Regenstrief was a Freemason.  A member of Warren Lodge #15 in Connersville, he was raised October 28, 1948.  Fueled in part by the same strong humanitarian principles inculcated in the Craft, Sammy first provided for his family and then became a generous philanthropist.  Among his other endeavors, in 1969, he founded the Regenstrief Institute, an internationally recognized healthcare research facility.  In turn, the institute developed the Regenstrief Medical Record System, a progressive, comprehensive patient care data collection system.  For this, he has had numerous medical facilities named in his honor.  Even when Sam was still at Philco, Brother William Denslow listed him in his iconic work, 10,000 Famous Freemasons:

      “Sam N. Regenstreif Vice President Philco Corp. (manufacturing appliance division) and President and director of Rex Manufacturing Co. b. in Vienna, Austria. Was consulting management engineer, specializing in management policies of numerous policies of numerous corporations, Indianapolis, 1931-39. Member of Warren Lodge No. 15, Connersville, Ind., receiving degrees on Sept. 9, Oct. 21, 28, 1948.”

      Brother Sam Regenstrief passed away January 17, 1988. Looking at his accomplishments would not reveal how humble his beginnings really were.  Shortly after his birth, a fire destroyed his family records.  He never knew what his birthday was and remarkably, he was never sure where he was born (his family has said Romania; Sam himself once wrote he was born in Austria).  Throughout his life he proved those things really don't matter that much: the clichĂ© is true – it's not where you start out, but where you end up.  

      Sam valued his employees highly and maintained a good working relationship with them, including my father.  And, just as he said that day driving me home from college, Dad always called him Sammy.

      Me? I called him Mr. Regenstrief.  Now, years later, I can also call him Brother.


Steve Harrison, 32° KCCHis a Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri.  He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Senior Warden.  He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and is a member of the DeMolay Legion of Honor.

1 comment:

  1. "One cold morning in 1972 about 5:50 AM I was driving to work at Philco Ford when I saw the flames from the old Ford plant and drove over to see what was up (flames obviously). I pulled up next to a butterscotch Ford mustang, parked and got out. That particular car only belonged to one person, Wayne Mitten, the assistant plant manager at Philco Ford. He and I watched the blaze for a couple of minutes. We discussed how odd it was that a plant, having stood for more than 50 years, would burn down while completely empty. Connersville was so small you would recognize individual automobiles, thus their drivers. What was even odder was that Mitten lived in Richmond Indiana 30 miles away and the most direct road to the Philco plant from Richmond was miles north of the burning building. Checking up on his work perhaps?

    Do you remember the country club in Connersville? One day after golfing Charlie Ford he and I went into the bar to get a couple of cokes. While we are waiting for our cokes and this old guy comes up to me and starts haranguing me about how the golf course here, "compares to the ones in New York you have played?" I told him I didn't know because I had "never played at a golf course in New York or anywhere else." Walking out I told Charlie "how did that goofy old man know I was from New York?" Charlie said "are you kidding that's Sammy Regenstrief." I replied "who is Sammy Regenstrief?" The old guy spoke to me every time we would cross paths at the 'club'. Cracked me up, we lived in NY for 10 months and I hated every minute of it, but I would always be the New Yorker to my old mate Sammy."

    Sammy had no children, when he died he gave it all to the Indiana University Medical School in Indianapolis. More on my old mate Sammy:


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