Born in Duluth, Minn., David Oreck joined the Army Air Force at the age of 17. A radar officer and navigator, he flew bombing missions over Japan during World War II. Then he made his way to New York City and discovered what would turn out to be his true calling - working as a salesman. Selling everything from Whirlpool appliances to televisions and microwaves, he rose through the ranks of RCA to become general sales manager. Then, in 1963, he left to form Oreck Corporation.
While Whirlpool was unable to make a success of its upright vacuum cleaners, Oreck believed that with a redesign of the machine, he could give it a new lease on life. So Whirlpool gave him exclusive rights to market them throughout the United States. The company also gave Oreck free reign to redesign the machine and then produced his prototype for him under the RCA Whirlpool label.
On a cold snowy day in Chicago, carrying the vacuum cleaner under his arm á la Willie Loman, the call came. In New Orleans, the RCA distributor was fighting for last place and winning, and the company wanted to know if he'd be interested in taking it over. "I flew down to New Orleans that day. The sun was out. It was beautiful. I was still in my heavy winter overcoat. I said to myself, 'Wow, I'm missing something here.'" In 48 hours, David Oreck bought the floundering business. In two years time, he turned it around and went from last to first place.