If wedding registries and cooking shows are any indication, KitchenAid’s iconic stand mixer may be home chefs’ most sought-after piece of equipment. Whether you’ve been whipping cream with one for decades or are thinking about plunking down the cash to buy your first one, there are a few things you might not know about the enduringly popular appliance.
1. THEY WERE ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SAVE COMMERCIAL BAKERS TIME.
In 1908, Herbert Johnson of the Hobart Manufacturing Company began designing a machine that would handle the task of mixing bread dough. By 1914, the company was marketing an 80-quart behemoth stand mixer called the Model H. It was a godsend to commercial bakers, who began snapping up the hulking contraptions.
2. NAVY SAILORS WERE EARLY FANS.
Before KitchenAid mixers were staples of cushy kitchens, they appeared in more rugged contexts. The United States Navy, always on the hunt for a way to save sailors time and efficiently feed large crews, ordered Model H mixers for three of its ships, where they proved so valuable that the device became part of Navy ships’ standard equipment.
3. AN EXECUTIVE'S WIFE NAMED IT.
Following the huge success of the commercial mixer, Hobart began working on a home model. As the story goes, once a prototype was completed, select executives and engineers took mixers home to their wives while they mulled over options for a catchy commercial name. When one of their wives praised the mixer as “the best kitchen aid” she had ever owned, culinary history was made.
4. THE FIRST HOME VERSION WAS ENORMOUS.
In 1919, home chefs finally got their own chance to cook with a scaled-down version of the contraption that had revolutionized bakeries and galleys. The domestic mixer, dubbed the Model H-5, didn’t enjoy the same instant success as its industrial predecessor. For one, it wasn’t quite the sleek KitchenAid we know and love today. The H-5 tipped the scales at 65 pounds, and it was 26 inches tall. The factory could only crank out four completed mixers per day, and retail outlets like hardware stores didn’t want to carry such a revolutionary product without first seeing that there was a market for it. Even home bakers who were interested in a mixer would have suffered from a case of sticker shock—the Model H-5 retailed for $189.50, or roughly $2600 in 2015.
5. THE COMPANY HAD TO GET CREATIVE TO SELL THE MIXERS.
When stores balked at carrying the home mixers, Hobart took to the streets to move units. A door-to-door sales force composed mostly of women lugged the hulking devices from one home to the next to show housewives just how useful the KitchenAid could be.
6. A SMALLER VERSION GAVE KITCHENAID ITS BIG BREAK.
Compelling sales pitch or no, getting homemakers to shell out big money for an enormous mixer was still a tall task. In 1927, a new, even smaller version hit the market, and KitchenAid finally had its hit. The Model G was even smaller than the Model H-5 and a bit less expensive, which helped it find a sweet spot that fit both homemakers’ counter space and their wallets. The new version was a huge success that sold 20,000 units in just three years.
7. IT STARTED LOOKING FAMILIAR IN THE 1930S.
Soon after the Model G helped KitchenAid find traction in the marketplace, the Great Depression hit. While a major economic downturn would seem to be bad news for a relative luxury like a mixer, the company decided to keep innovating to maintain its customer base. In 1936, designer Egmont Arens came aboard to create new models of the mixer, a choice that would literally shape KitchenAid’s future. Arens was a proponent of “humaneering,” a philosophy that dictated designs should be pleasing to the senses in addition to being functional, and in August 1937, KitchenAid introduced an all-time crowd-pleaser, the Model K.
How strong was Arens’s new design? Over 75 years later, the KitchenAid mixers brides and grooms are adding to their registries are, in the company’s words, “virtually unchanged” from the ones Arens rolled out in 1937.
8. THEY ARE BUILT TO LAST.
Arens’s design isn’t the only enduring thing about KitchenAid. When the home mixers celebrated their 75th anniversary in 1994, KitchenAid launched a search to find the oldest working example of one of its mixers. Ninety-one-year-old Maude Humes of Blawnox, Pennsylvania took home the prize of $7500 and a new set of appliances for owning a working 1919 Model H. Humes admitted that she inherited the ancient mixer from an aunt and actually did her cooking with a more recent model: A 1930s-era Model G.
9. THERE'S A SCIENCE BEHIND THEIR PERFORMANCE.
It takes more than just an aesthetically pleasing design to become a kitchen hero for over seven decades. As KitchenAid’s marketing materials and review sites like The Sweethome alike note, KitchenAid mixers employ a “planetary” action to do their mixing. As a beater spins, it also rotates around within the bowl, which ensures more contact with the ingredients. The end result is that the ingredients get more fully mixed than they would using alternative mechanisms.
10. OLDER ATTACHMENTS STILL WORK.
One positive side effect from Arens’s enduring design: Very old attachments still work, even on brand-new KitchenAid mixers. While many chefs loving hooking the pasta maker or sausage grinder attachments onto their mixers, with some digging, you can find discontinued 1950s-era attachments to help turn your mixer into a machine that shells peas, buffs silver, and opens cans.
11. THERE'S AN ENTIRE KITCHENAID MUSEUM.
Since the 1940s, every KitchenAid mixer has been built in the same factory in Greenville, Ohio, which has turned into something of a shrine to kitchen appliances. The KitchenAid Experience boasts a retail store and factory tours, but for hardcore fans of mixing, the highlight has to be the museum, which boasts early models, vintage ads, and notable mixers like the K5A owned by Julia Child.