Our Oregon Roots Run Deep

 

George Alfred Morlan was born in Arkansas in 1901. Raised in a humble home, George learned the value of hard work at a young age in the plumbing trade. In 1927, together with his wife, Mary, the couple left the Ozarks for Portland, Oregon. It was here that George opened his plumbing business with one helper and a Ford truck.

The Great Depression coincided with the building of homes in the new suburbs of Portland. George weathered the economic hard-times by plumbing many new homes in the area. By the mid-1930’s his little shop on SE Foster Road had expanded to include a plumbing parts counter and showroom, while his crew of plumbers grew.

It was around 1935 that a new home appliance, the electric water heater, was introduced. Prior to this time, water heater at home was usually accomplished by a side-arm boiler attached to the home furnace or kitchen stove. The Fowler Company in Portland pioneered the new appliance and George Morlan quickly realized the convenience it meant for homeowners to have a continuously available source of hot water. Soon, George was selling and installing so many of the new water heaters that a friend dubbed him, “The Water Heater King!” The moniker stuck and George began using it as a catchphrase for his business. It later became a federally registered trademark of the George Morlan Plumbing Company.

After World War II, George’s son, Gary, joined the business, which had expanded to include one of the largest crews of service plumbers in Portland. It was also at that time that George expanded the operation to include home appliances: refrigerators, washers and dryers, and was even among the first to sell televisions in the Rose City. By the 1950’s the business grew to include a second store in Gresham.

By 1965, George Morlan retired, turning the operations over to Gary, who had recently married Leone Kramien. Leone brought a background in show business and merchandising to the business, streamlining the operation. The Gresham store was closed with the focus kept on the Foster Road location. Leone ran the counter and showroom while Gary installed water heaters and supervised the crew of plumbers.

 

Supporting the DIY Boom

During the “do-it-yourself” boom of the 1970’s, before “home centers” spread across the nation, George Morlan was one of the first to offer (and encourage) homeowners to purchase plumbing fixtures and parts directly from the shop and show them how to install their purchases.

Leone’s son, Rick Kramien, joined the business in the 1970’s while still in high school; scrapping water heaters on weekends and helping his step-dad, Gary, install new water heaters in homes throughout the area. By the mid-1980’s, Rick was working at the counter and took charge of the company marketing, bringing the George Morlan Plumbing name to radio and television audiences for the first time.