The Founders – Sylvester Severson

Every day, trucks pulling refrigerated trailers deliver food and related items to restaurants, schools, hotels and of course grocery stores.  To many, the details of this transportation are unknown and taken for granted.  We place items in the grocery cart, go out to eat, even order our favorite coffee with a pastry without thinking twice.  As consumers, we expect quality and freshness in an ever-growing list of products that we can purchase.  Some of these items travel thousands of miles with a limited “window” of freshness or shelf-life.  The Farm-to-Fork process is commonly referred to in the industry as “The Cold Chain”.  FG Products is merely a manufacturer/supplier for a few links in this cold chain, but we like to think our role has a little more significance.

Just as Joe Numero and Fred McKinley Jones were presented with an opportunity to solve a problem, which later created the modern transport refrigeration unit and gave rise to Thermo King Corporation, our founder too was presented with an opportunity.  Sylvester “Squeak” Severson was a farmer who happened to be in the right place at the right time.  A conversation with the right individuals and he ultimately recognized the need for an insulated divider to use in refrigerated trailers.  Starting in his barn, he crafted the first Insulated Bulkhead to divide a trailer.  With a large panel strapped to the roof of his station wagon, Squeak made the 100-mile drive to Minneapolis to deliver the concept to SuperValu Inc.  The Insulated Bulkhead was born in 1962 and with it came Foam Glass Products, Inc.   Improvements and features were added to the product like a thermostatically controlled fan and pass-through door.  Squeak received a patent on the Insulated Bulkhead in 1967.  US Patent 3,311,042.

Squeak moved out of the barn and into a nearby building in the unincorporated town of Campia, Wisconsin.  Early FG Bulkheads were aluminum skinned or molded fiberglass containing an injected foam core.  The process of sealing the panel to the interior of the trailer was uniquely solved by air.  A heavy duty inner tube was created, complete with an inflation valve. The inner tube was placed in a channel around the panel and covered with fabric.  A simple bicycle pump (molded into the panel) allowed the operator to inflate the tube and seal the perimeter, securing the bulkhead in place.  Word spread about the Portable Bulkhead and advertisements in Refrigerated Transporter Magazine allowed the company to grow quickly.



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The logic is still sound today.  Separating goods in a trailer by temperature makes sense, as long as you have access to them.  This simple divider allowed an industry to consider distribution differently.  Prior to this, one trailer implied one temperature, therefore requiring more trailers or multiple trips.  Mixing product temperatures in one cooled space risked product integrity and wasted cooling capacity on non-perishable items.  Today, there are as many as four temperatures in one trailer (including dry/ambient) allowing for complete deliveries from one trailer.  As product offerings continue to expand, the need for multi-temp distribution follows.

Sylvester Severson was the founder of FG Products and the man responsible for the Insulated Bulkhead used by so many refrigerated distributors today.  A framed photo of Squeak looks over our conference room and his patent hangs on the wall.  As we sat at the conference table contemplating our first blog post, honoring our founder was the only way to start.  Thank you, Squeak!