PROSPECT HEIGHTS, Ill. — Thermos Co., whose vacuum bottles and lunch boxes are an American institution from kindergartens to construction sites, is being bought by the Japanese.
Its parent company, Household International, announced Thursday that it was selling Thermos to Nippon Sanso K. K., a major manufacturer of industrial gas that is diversifying into consumer products. The purchase price was not disclosed.
Thermos, based in Freeport, Ill., says it invented the glass vacuum bottle in Connecticut in 1907 and developed a large line of insulated containers for toting food and drink.
Although it is best known for its bottles and lunch boxes, including the cartoon-character lunch buckets popular with children, Thermos also makes propane grills, insulated coolers and other household and recreational products.
Sales of $194 million
Household International, based in this northwest Chicago suburb, said in a news release that it expects to close the cash transaction by the end of August.
Thermos employs 1,900 people and is the largest of six manufacturing subsidiaries that Household is selling in order to focus on its financial services businesses, which include Household Finance.
Thermos had sales of about $194 million in 1988.
Some construction workers in downtown Chicago reacted to news of the sale with dismay.
"Oh no," said Gary Callahan, an electrician. "What am I going to keep my beer in?"
Callahan said he would not buy Thermos products if the new owners move the manufacturing operations overseas.
Officials of Nippon Sanso could not be reached for comment on their plans for Thermos, which has plants in Freeport and Batesville, Miss., plus two factories in England and one in Canada. A plant in Taftville, Conn., is being shut down and is not included in the sale.
Ron Slade, Thermos' human resources director, said he did not know Nippon Sanso's plans. Household referred questions to its New York-based financial adviser, Claudia Meer of J. P. Morgan & Co., who did not return three telephone calls.
Another construction worker, Derryl Caldwell of Chicago, said he disapproved of the sale.
"The Japanese are buying up America," he said. "We like American-made products because it gives jobs to Americans and helps our economy."
Caldwell's supervisor, Warren Sawicki of Elk Grove Village, agreed.
"I think most Americans would like to see their dollars stay in America," he said. "On the other hand, America must still be a good place to invest in--that's the other side of the coin."
5 Units Still for Sale
Almost all of the workers at the construction site near the Amoco Corp. headquarters building said they owned Thermos products or similar products made by Thermos competitors such as Aladdin Industries and Igloo Corp., both U.S.-owned.
Household announced in January its plans to divest all of its manufacturing operations. In April, it spun off to its shareholders three manufacturing companies, Eljer Industries, Scotsman Industries and Schwitzer Inc.
The company expects to sell its five remaining manufacturing companies by the end of the summer, said spokesman Robert Hartney. Those companies include GC-Thorsen, Albion Industries, King-Sealy, Omni Products International and WaterTest Corp.
Household's financial-services businesses are Household Finance, Household Bank, Household Commercial Finance and Alexander Hamilton Life Insurance.