Herbert Johnston, an engineer at the Hobart Manufacturing Company was a curious man, or rather he was a man who was constantly curious. He was one of that band of engineers who want to use their practical skills to solve other people’s problems.
So, when in 1908 he saw an over-worked baker working away to mix bread dough with nothing but an iron spoon and brute force, he thought that there must be a better and more efficient way of doing it.
It took him nearly seven years to develop an 80-quart electrical stand mixer but when it was introduced sales grew rapidly, saving bakers’ arms up and down the country. It came to the notice of the procurement department of the US Navy and they ordered mixers for two new Tennessee-class battleships, the California and the Tennessee, as well as the U.S. Navy’s first dreadnought battleship, the South Carolina. By 1917, the stand mixer had become “regular equipment” on all U.S. Navy ships.
The product’s overwhelming success prompted Johnson and the other Hobart engineers to think about the potential for a smaller model that might be used in the home kitchens. World War I interfered, and while the battleships benefited from the mixers, the American public had to wait until peacetime returned.
It wasn’t until 1919 that the Model H-5, the first stand mixer for the home, was introduced. It came not only with an array of attachments, but with a new brand name too. According to the brand’s official history the name was given to it but one of the Hobart executive’s wives whom having tried a prototype, is supposed to have exclaimed, “I don’t care what you call it, but I know it’s the best kitchen aid I’ve ever had!”
The KitchenAid trademark was quickly registered with the U.S. Patent Office.
The H-5 was also the first in what was to be a long line of KitchenAid stand mixers that utilized a “planetary action,” a revolutionary design that rotated the beater in one direction while moving it around the bowl in the opposite path.
It wasn’t a small unit though, standing about 26 inches (33cm) high and weighing approximately 65 pounds (29.5kg).
Many retailers were initially hesitant to carry the unique product so the company turned to its own largely female sales force, who set out to sell the 65-pound H-5 door to door. They gave in-home demonstrations to groups of women demonstrating how the machine could mix, beat, cut, cream, slice, chop, grind, strain, and freeze and sales quickly grew.
In 1927 the Model G stand mixer was introduced. Lighter and more compact than the H-5, it sells 20,000 units in its first three years on the market. Early adopters of the Model G included John Barrymore, Henry Ford, and Ginger Rogers
Then in the 1930s the company hired Egmont Arens to design three new, more affordable stand mixer models. Arens was the Art Editor of Vanity Fair, as well as being a world-renowned artist, designer, and “industrial humaneer” championing a consumer-centric approach to product design and packaging.
His client list included G.E., Fairchild Aircraft, and the General American Transportation Company and indeed the Hobart company for whom he had designed a meat slicer.
Arens’ design for the 4½-quart-capacity Model K45 was sleek and modernistic, far ahead of its time. It remains virtually unchanged to this day. It was released in 1937 to huge success. All KitchenAid components are compatible with the front attachment hub of every mixer made since that day.
One final and famous innovation wasn’t actually introduced till 1955, when at the Atlantic City Housewares Show, KitchenAid unveiled a range of colours including Petal Pink, Sunny Yellow, Island Green, Satin Chrome, and Antique Copper.
So if you are like Herbert Johnston, and are naturally curious and you had ever wondered about the origins of your KitchenAid, now you know.