The splendid name Egmont Arens may not be familiar to home cooks but, as the designer of the domestic version of the KitchenAid stand mixer, his iconic product certainly is. Even those of us who don’t bake often have lusted after its virtuoso heft and enduring proficiency.
Egmont was hired in the 1930s to design a low-cost series of mixers for the consumer market, but before that, it was Herbert Johnson, an engineer at the Hobart Corporation in Springfield, Ohio, who watched a baker labouring with a metal spoon to mix dough and thought, there must be a better way.
By 1914, an industrial mixer was developed and, before you could whip a bowl of cream, it was installed on battleships and became standard US Navy equipment.
Success with land-based professional bakers inspired a domestic version, but the response was lukewarm. In 1918, prototypes were given to the wives of factory executives and engineers and one of them described hers as “the best kitchen aid” she had ever owned.
The KitchenAid was sold through hardware stores, but many refused to sell the untried and expensive product. The mixer weighed 30 kilograms, stood 66 centimetres high, and retailed for US$189.50 – in today’s money a staggering US$3,143. To put that in perspective, the average US household earned $1,518 a year in 1918. The sales technique changed and women were hired to sell door-to-door.
A smaller, less expensive model put the company on the right track. Egmont’s redesign cemented the success and the company sold out every Christmas. Now, the factory in Greenville, Ohio, where it moved after WWII, sells 2.5 million a year.
Egmont believed that the mixer should be aesthetically pleasing as well as practical and his design has been virtually unchanged down through the decades.
The KitchenAid whirred on, and on. Its extraordinary durability fed the legend and, as planned obsolescence and shabby workmanship became commonplace, virtually guaranteed success. A 1994 competition to locate the oldest working mixer uncovered a 91-year-old Pittsburgh woman with a 1919 mixer she had inherited from an aunt.
The mixer also works extremely well. The design incorporates a “planetary” action, which means that as the beater spins, it also rotates within the bowl, and mixes ingredients more comprehensively than other methods.
Attachments have long been part of the magic and now the mixers can power many other appliances, such as a juicer, pasta roller, food processor, heat-precision bowl for tempering chocolate etc. A lot of old and discontinued components still work and can turn the KitchenAid into a machine for shelling peas, buffing silver, opening cans and other odd tasks.
Dazzling rainbow colours have been a huge factor in its success and it became the ‘pop of colour’ appliance, displayed in the kitchen rather than being hidden away.
Early on, there were three colours – Petal Pink, Sunshine Yellow and Satin Copper. Now, a rainbow of 84 deeply gorgeous jewel tones gleams like Lamborghinis on the showroom floor.
A new colour is introduced each year, but, that is not enough for the faithful. It’s a thing to customise your KitchenAid and add polka dots, chevron prints and various other bespoke elements available from places such as Etsy. Some aficionados custom paint their mixers and a cupcake chain in the US has theirs covered in Swarovski crystals.
No other household appliance seems to have reached such cult status drawing thousands of tourists each year to the factory to watch the production lines, visit the museum with its gold-plated KitchenAid, and take cooking classes.
Today, there are quite a lot of products available under the KitchenAid brand and several models of stand mixers. At Myer they range in price from $599 for an Artisan Mini to $1,299 for the ProLine in Candy Red.
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