In December of 2017 I wrote a column praising Speed Queen washers and dryers, a product that has a cult following, myself being a happy member of said cult. You can read the column here. I planned on it being a one-off, but the column resonated with readers in a way I had never seen before. I received dozens of emails in the weeks to follow, most of them from new Speed Queen owners thanking me for letting them know they can still get a washer and dryer with old-school quality, machines built to last for decades. It seems that people are sick of poorly made, throwaway appliances that need replaced every 3-6 years because they break and are too expensive to repair (if they can be repaired at all.)
Towards the end of last summer (2018) the good people at Alliance Laundry Systems, manufacturer of Speed Queen, invited me to visit their factory so I could learn more about their company, their products and how they make them. Anyone who knows me or reads the column every week knows I had quite a tough year, so the trip had to be postponed and rescheduled several times.
It took me until March of 2019, but I finally made it up to Ripon (pronounced rip-pin) Wisconsin. just outside of Oshkosh, to take them up on their offer. What will follow is a story of manufacturing on a scale I have never seen before, in both size and scope. Something else I saw is steel – a LOT of steel, the most I have ever seen in one place, and I live in Pittsburgh… steel town. Practically every metal and plastic part is fabricated in-house and turned into beautiful, finely finished appliances and commercial laundry equipment. They make it seem easy.
Alliance Laundry Systems History and Brands
The company that would eventually become Alliance Laundry Systems started in a hardware store all the way back in 1908. You can see some of their early products above and below.
Learn more about the company history, with many industry firsts, on the Speed Queen website.
Alliance Laundry Systems is much more than Speed Queen. With plants in the USA, the Czech Republic, Thailand, and China, they provide laundry equipment to every corner of the globe. Here are a few of the brands they make at the Ripon factory.
Speed Queen is composed of Speed Queen Home Laundry and Speed Queen Commercial, for use in laundromats, on-premises commercial laundry and in multi-unit dwellings such as apartments and college dormatories.
Much like Speed Queen Commercial, Huebsch provides laundry equipment for vended laundry in laundromats and multi-unit dwellings. Unlike Speed Queen, there is no home Huebsch line.
Large-scale, on-premises industrial laundry is the domain of UniMac. These huge machines are found in places like hospitals, hotels and motels. Whenever I stay at a hotel I tend to take clean linens and towels for granted. I never stopped to think that somewhere in the building, there are people and machines working hard every day cleaning them. The next time you use a clean towel at a hotel, you probably have a UniMac washer-extractor to thank for it. Alliance Laundry Systems offers Primus and IPSO brands of washer-extractors overseas.
About Speed Queen Home Laundry
Anyone who has been to a laundromat knows about Speed Queen. Speed Queen washers and dryers are designed and built to stand up to the rigors of use in a commercial laundromat, and the home machines are built to the same standard. If you look at the two machines above, you will see the one on the right has a coin box and electronic controls for use in a laundromat. The one on the left is pretty much the same except for the control panel and the coin box.
Speed Queen Home Laundry is a very small part of Alliance’s overall business, but it is still very important to them. Laundry is a passion for them and all that they do, and they are committed to serve every segment of the market. Alliance does not build to a price point and when someone buys a Speed Queen washer or dryer, they are taking home a machine with the same kind of heavy-duty quality found at the laundromat. It’s a premium-priced product, but you get what you pay for and that was evident when I saw how they are made. You may pay more for it up front, but in the long term, it will cost much less because of the durability, reliability and longevity. My family’s original Speed Queen lasted over 30 years without a repair, and that has made believers of me and my dad both.
Many consumers don’t know they can get a Speed Queen machine for their home because they are only sold by independently-owned dealers, not stores like Sears, Home Depot, Best Buy, or Lowe’s. There are two reasons the company has decided to only sell through independents. The first is the superior service found at independently-owned dealers (which I can personally attest to) and the second is manufacturing capacity. The independents alone are enough to keep the factory busy, and Alliance seems content to keep the product somewhat exclusive rather than a commodity, like a Mercedes or BMW compared to a Chevy or a Ford.
Interested in a Speed Queen for yourself? Find your local Speed Queen retailer
On to the tour!
There was a lot that I saw that impressed me, but what was most amazing is how they really manufacture their products. Going in I expected to see a fair number of subcontracted parts being put in the machines, like when a car is manufactured. Not so.
What I pretty much saw was this…
and this (plastic pellets)…
…turned into this.
Like I said, they make it seem easy.