M.S. Johnston Co., Hagerstown, MD, Oldest York Dealer

Nov. 1, 2004
An entirely new field in electric refrigeration was opening up, and Maurice S. Johnston was nearly first in line in Hagerstown, MD. His mechanical aptitude

An entirely new field in electric refrigeration was opening up, and Maurice S. Johnston was nearly first in line in Hagerstown, MD. His mechanical aptitude and experience with handling milk and milk products served him well.

Johnston ran a horse-drawn milk wagon route in 1909. At the age of 16, he began tinkering with the new-fangled Ford automobiles that were beginning to crowd local streets. M.S. launched his first business by selling and repairing the new gasoline flat irons that replaced the ones heated on cook stoves.

Later, M.S. worked for several large ice cream companies. His principal responsibility was to prepare, mix, or make ice cream. Because these were usually not full-time jobs, M.S. created a business on the side. This involved repairing and reselling refrigeration equipment.

Johnston founded a refrigeration service company in 1932 in the basement workshop of his home at 900 Mulberry Avenue. After an expansion from the basement to his block garage, the company moved to its current location in 1943 — a barn on a Mennonite farm. Of course, it doesn't look much like a barn any longer: It's a thriving $8M business with nearly 50 employees, and 50 trucks on the road.

M.S. had said that his greatest concern with the expansion wasn't the financial angle, it was how to find the best people to help him do the necessary work. (Some things havent changed in this business, have they?)

One of those early employees was M.S. Johnston's son, Maurice F. Johnston. The younger Johnston rode with his dad on service calls. In 1953, after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, young Maurice began working as a full-time service repairman. Maurice is the current owner and president of M.S. Johnston Co. Inc. Mike Johnston, P.E., grandson of the founder, is the vice president and COO. The company is involved in the sheet metal, commercial, and industrial HVAC, Design/Build, and of course, refrigeration markets. The business operates a refrigeration and food service division that not only services restaurant equipment, but sells it as well.

M.S. signed on with York Ice Machinery Corp. in December 1940, as what was then referred to as a contracting distributor. The company made a mark selling three-to five-ton water-cooled units to taverns and bars and anyone else who needed cooling.

Maurice says, "Department stores needed help. Hot customers tried on garments that quickly became soiled, and often had to be cleaned several times. Air conditioning saved money on cleaning bills as well as on mark downs. Restaurants owners found that comfortable people stay inside longer and eat more. The waitresses worked better too."

A Smooth Relationship
Aircon Engineering has been distributing York products to the M.S. Johnston Company since the early 1950s. Kim Leonard, owner and president of Aircon says, "Both companies began as York contracting distributors, started by our fathers, who knew each other very well. Both were instrumental in the industry as early pioneers. We elected to stay in distribution, and Maurice decided to go the contractor route."

"We were assigned the M.S. Johnston company as a customer. They said they didn't want us, but we took them anyway," laughs Leonard.

Maurice recalls, "We have stayed a York dealer because of their product, educational programs, service and sales support, and the back up of Aircon. Sometimes sales weren't as high as we wanted, but York has always been contractor-oriented. I can really say the relationship has been good. Doing business with York is like family. The main reasons we continue are because of their people and those who represent them."