Refrigeration pioneer Ed Bottum Sr. passed away Oct. 21 at age 89. At the time of his death, he was chairman of the board of Refrigeration Research Inc. of Brighton, MI, a company he founded in 1944 and that continues today under the leadership of second-generation family members.

Following graduation from the University of Michigan in 1933 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Mr. Bottum was hired by Kelvinator Corp. in the inspection department. From 1935 to 1938 he worked in the Kelvinator Commercial Engineering Lab. He then joined Copeland Corp. and was placed in charge of the engineering lab, during which time the first Copelametic compressors were developed.

In 1941, he joined Skuttle Manufacturing Co. as vice president and chief engineer involved in the development of humidifiers, air movers, and ventilators.

He founded Refrigeration Research in Detroit in 1944 as a family business that “has been able to continue the same policies that have resulted in innovative products of value to the industry,” according to a statement from the company.

The company makes component refrigeration parts — both catalog and made to order — for about 200 manufacturers and several hundred wholesalers. The company has production facilities in three states.

Innovations include wire cloth bag-type accumulator driers, a complete line of mufflers, “Leek Pruf” fusible plugs, a complete line of suction accumulators, and a no-frost, non-drip heat exchanger suction accumulator.


Another special interest of Mr. Bottum was solar engineering. In 1960, he registered the Solar Research name, and founded the Solar Research Division.

Solar tests were made in the Brighton labs and Mr. Bottum joined the Society for Applied Solar Energy, which has since become the International Solar Energy Society.

Solar Research was one of the first to recognize the close relationship between the refrigeration industry and solar energy. It soon led the way by introducing the phase change solar system in the mid-1970s.

The Solar Research Division did not fold with the phaseout of the tax credits for such research. It stayed in business, continued to offer new developments in solar technology, and has produced a solar catalog every year since 1975.

Mr. Bottum’s experiments in solar technology included a way to melt ice on the sidewalks at the Refrigeration Research offices and a solar heated doghouse on the site.


Mr. Bottum’s commitment to the industry was reflected in the development of an extensive industry museum at the Refrigeration Research headquarters in Brighton.

The purpose, he said, was “to permanently preserve historic refrigeration and air conditioning items such as equipment, systems, components, technical information, books, catalogs, papers, and profiles in order to trace, as accurately as possible, development of refrigeration and air conditioning from the beginning.”

In 2000, ASME International designated the museum a Mechanical Engineering Heritage Collection.


Mr. Bottum was granted some 75 patents related to refrigeration or solar components. He presented papers and was named a Fellow to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). He was named a life member of ASHRAE in 1977. He was also a member of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society. In 1979, he received the Eminent Engineer of the Year Award from Tau Beta Pi of the University of Michigan.

In recent years he spent considerable time traveling and speaking at schools, colleges, and solar groups. Among organizations he has worked with include Oakridge National Lab, Ferris State University, and Texas State Technical Institute among many others.


Mr. Bottum once outlined his philosophy:

  • Don’t become complacent. “Treat each day with the same energy and enthusiasm as the first day of business.”
  • Innovation is extremely important. “As the late Dr. Deming pointed out, carburetor makers made higher and higher quality carburetors at lower and lower costs but finally went out of business when the fuel injector made the carburetor unnecessary.”
  • Offer the customer value. “Quality is important but quality must be a value. For instance: It is of no value to hold the length of a steel fence post to a few thousandths of an inch at greatly increased costs. However, it will be a value to hold certain parts for precision machinery to very close tolerances. Quality is more than paperwork, and quality at any cost that is not a value has led to bankruptcy.”
  • Provide W.E.M. “A company must be willing to ‘walk the extra mile’ for the customer. When all usual and expected duties have been preformed for the customer but unusual needs arise, the supplier must be willing to walk the extra mile in providing assistance to the customer.”
  • Create and maintain a mutual relationship of trust and confidence. “Practice the Golden Rule in dealing with employees, suppliers, and customers. Policies that torpedo this relationship can only lead to disaster.”
  • Publication date: 12/3/2001