In memoriam: Winston Shelton, founder of Winston Industries

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Foodservice equipment innovator and inventor changed the trajectory of KFC

Company CEO Valerie Shelton said: “It is with a heavy heart the Winston Industries family announces the passing of the company’s founder, Winston Shelton, aged 96, just 18 days shy of his 97th birthday.”

The company remembers Shelton as a brilliant innovator whose inventions included revolutionary restaurant equipment such as the Collectramatic, a pressure- fryer he designed at the request of Col. Harland Sanders for Kentucky Fried Chicken (pictured below with Shelton, left), and CVap, a precision vapor-heated ovening cabinet used by some of the world’s finest chefs and largest chains.

Born in West Virginia to entreprenurial parents who ran a restaurant and automobile service station, Shelton learned the value of hard work and being one’s own boss. But it was the free time spent with his brother, Naaman Shelton, Jr., working with discarded car parts and motors that sparked his love for machines of all types. He dubbed his tinkering with junk as “sawmill engineering,” meaning the learned ability to correct and fix his father’s sawmill with patient thinking and few resources.

While in college studying to be an attorney, Shelton was drafted by the US Army for service in World War II. However, his 1943 appointment never saw him go to the front. To his surprise, he and dozens of other privates were ordered off a military-camp-bound train, where they would become electrical engineers at Princeton University.

Solving problems

It was during his time as a test engineer with General Electric’s Home Laundry Department in Bridgeport, Conn. he applied both science and sawmill engineering to solve numerous problems for the firm’s first automatic washer, an appliance he called “mechanically over-engineered” and priced well beyond the reach of most consumers. By simplifying the machine, he vastly improved it, slashed its consumer cost and helped GE become a leader in the category.

This success earned him a promotion and a move to Louisville, where he continued in Laundry at Appliance Park in 1952. Fifteen years would pass before meeting Col. Sanders, who sought improvements on a batch pressure-fryer that would reduce cooking times in KFC stores.

Winston’s subsequent development of the Collectramatic fryer would help the chain achieve then-unprecedented unit growth in American restaurants, while earning him the friendship of the venerable Sanders. It would also result in the founding of Winston Industries.

Today, Winston Industries serves countless foodservice clients around the globe in more than 120 countries. Its Win2uit electronic controls subsidiary even has devices working miles above Earth in the International Space Station.

Winston Shelton is survived by daughters Valerie Shelton and Laura Shelton, and son David Shelton; wife Joyce Fullerton Shelton; grandchildren Laura Saleem, Nicholas Reisser, Sarah Reisser, Carrie Hall, Dennis Hall, Jonathan Hall, David Shelton II, Christopher Shelton, Jacob Shelton and Carah Shelton. He was preceded in death by wife Hazel “Dolly” Shelton.