RV industry pioneer Frank Sargent, Thetford Corp.’s co-founder, celebrated his 100th birthday in Naples, Fla., on Sept. 21.
Recognizing the need to make recreational life more pleasant through advancements in sanitation, Sargent and sons Charles “Bud” Sargent and Ron Sargent founded and incorporated the Thetford Engineering Co. in 1963, according to a corporate release.
Like many early entrepreneurial efforts of the 20th century, Thetford began as a fledgling company operating out of a garage in Thetford Township near Flint, Mich.
As a news release notes, within five years, Thetford began manufacturing three products it continues to successfully make today: slide-blade porcelain RV toilets in 1964; now world-famous Aqua-Kem, the RV industry’s first concentrated liquid holding tank deodorant, in 1967; and the world’s first two-piece, hand-carried portable toilet, Porta-Potti, in 1968.
Paced by those three products and Sargent’s leadership, Thetford quickly became what it is today: the world’s leading supplier of sanitation products for the RV, marine and heavy-duty truck industries.
“Frank was very active in the design arena and was constantly coming up with new product ideas for discussion,” said Earl Sweet, who became the company’s first non-family member employee in 1964 and retired from Thetford in 2002.
“Frank was a hard-working, self-educated gentleman who expected you to work as hard as he did,” Sweet added. “He is one man who I feel very fortunate to have known and I consider him a friend. He was a mentor to many people, especially those of us who were involved in starting Thetford.”
Theford was owned by members of the Sargent family until 1989 and currently is a privately-held, American-owned company with eight manufacturing facilities in four countries.
Currently headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., Thetford subsidiaries include: Norcold, America’s leading manufacturer of recreational gas-absorption refrigerators and freezers; Tecma, a producer of fine-china toilets and powerful waste-transfer systems based in Italy; and Spinflo, a unit in England that makes high-quality cooking and heating appliances, as well as accessories.