A Brief Look at the Beginnings of Rico Suction Labs, Inc.

A Brief Look at the Beginnings of Rico Suction Labs, Inc.

Cross Posted: Patient Care Equipment
Submitter/Author: Nancy Rich, reprinted with permission

    What do furniture polish, embalming fluids and medical aspirators have in common? 

    To most people there is no common thread. But, for the Rich family, it is all part of their family lineage and heritage. As far back as the late 1800’s WA. Rich of Baltimore established the beginnings for a line of family entrepreneurs while operating his Maryland based furniture company. His knowledge of furniture building led to what can now be seen as a “related” endeavor, when he opened the Graham Coffin & Casket Company, located in Graham, North Carolina. This set the course for the family’s future business interests arid eventually for Rico Suction Labs, Inc.

    While Rich dealt with the daily operation of his company, he dabbled in creating chemical formulations that would help him create better appearing caskets, In 1901 he patented his own furniture polish named, Lathru, Rich’s Celebrated Furniture Polish and Cleaning Compound. As a natural progression from the craftsmanship of wooden caskets, he opened the Rich A Funeral Home. With the addition of the Thompson family as partners, the business would later be known as the Rich & Thompson Funeral Home, located in Burlington, North Carolina.

    Frank M. Rich, W. A. Rich’s son worked in the funeral business as early as the 1930s and would later became a partner in the Rich & Thompson Funeral Home. Frank, like his dad, dabbled in formulas and derived his own compounds. His formulas - embalming fluids—were first used in the business1 but then Frank, along with another partner, Ladd Coble, formed the Rico Chemical Company, for the manufacturing and mass-marketing of these formulas. Thus, the name “Rico” was formed, by using the first two letters of the partners’ last names. They also created and marketed Rico antiseptic soap.

    Funeral homes in rural America during the 1940s, ‘50s and 60's were multifaceted. The ambulance service in many towns were managed by the funeral directors, as was the case at Rich & Thompson.
Now involved in yet another business, Frank set his creative mind to find solutions to make his business work more effectively. This time he decided to find a better way to aspirate patients in transit in his ambulances.
His natural curiosity led to the creation of the early trademarked Rico Aspirators, first manufactured and sold locally under Rico Chemical Company.

    In the 1970s, Frank retired from the funeral home and sold his interest in the chemical company. But that didn’t stop him. He undertook his second career, the newly formed company, Rico Suction Labs Inc. This company continues to design, manufacture and distribute the Rico aspirators today.

    His early portables accomplished aspiration by the use of a chemical metering tubular pump, which had high vacuum and low air flow—as opposed to the vacuum side of a compressor with a vacuum jar, which creates high vacuum and high air flow. His method did not take oxygen away from the patient when oxygen and aspiration were needed at the same time.

  The RS-5 was a very versatile unit as it could be mount in the ambulance and run off either the engine vacuum, an electric suction motor, or the hand pump. It could also be removed and brought to the site of the patient and utilized using the hand pump.

    Early fixed, on-board ambulance units were often tied into the engine manifold to supply the vacuum to the aspirator. Today’s units utilize self-contained engines or electric vacuums.
Later, a double-action hand pump was designed and integrated into several models. This allowed a fixed emergency medical aspirator to be retrofitted to a highly flexible shelf-mount unit that could quickly be de-mounted for use outside the ambulance. Portable aspirators were born!

  The RS-4 unit from the 1960ís was designed to be mounted in the ambulance, and received itís power from the engine vacuum. In the 1970ís, the unit was slightly redesigned by changing the mounting bracket to make it more easy to change the canister, and the top of the unit was now plastic instead of chrome plated metal. It also became popular and more reliable to add an electric suction pump to power the unit due to when the engine vacuum was utilized, the amount of suction was affected by the rpm of the motor. On acceleration of the vehicle, the amount of vacuum to the suction was reduced.

    Over the years, designs and methods have streamlined and new materials have been integrated into the manufacturing process. The results are high-quality, dependable aspirators, known for their simplicity and longevity. Rico Suction Labs Inc. continues marketing worldwide under the careful “hands on” guidance of another generation of the Rich family, Frank M. Rich, Jr., the founder’s son. The 21st century will see more changes and perhaps another generation will carry on, but these days, we are proud to say, “Aspirators are our only business”. 

Editors Note:

Rico Suction Labs continued to be owned by Frank Rich Jr. and his wife Nancy, until  2004, when Rico was purchased by Joe & Lee Ann Michael, the current owners, and returned to Burlington, NC. Rico aspirators have been in commercial use in the United States since 1952 and are now used extensively throughout the world.


External Resource Link: http://www.ricosuction.com/

Last Revision Date: 5/5/11 - 0:22 AM

Share Your Memories

Note: the numbers zero (0) and one (1) do not appear in the image. If you are uncertain of a character, take your best guess.