Everyone’s favorite mixer is also an icon of American design.
Tens of millions of KitchenAid mixers have been made in the same Greenville, Ohio factory since 1919. See how they’re made:
The Story of KitchenAid
The KitchenAid story begins when Herbert Johnson, an engineer at the Hobart Corporation, observed a baker hard at work. Johnson watched the baker mixing his bread by hand, and decided that there must be a better way. He set out to develop an automatic mixer and in 1914, Hobart released the 60-quart industrial H5. The H5 eventually made its way into every ship kitchen in the US Navy.
The H5 mixer by Hobart (left), and the first consumer KitchenAid (right).
The Origin of a Name. In 1920, the company released the first consumer version: a 10-quart model which was also the first ‘KitchenAid.” As the story goes, a wife of one of the company’s executives took the unnamed mixer home to test it, and came back saying “I don’t care what you call it; all I know is it’s the best kitchen aid I’ve ever had.”
Various versions of the KitchenAid in the 1920s and 1930s.
A Hard Sell. The mixer was initially marketed toward farm housewives, and sold primarily in hardware stores. KitchenAid eventually built a female door-to-door sales force, to a bit more success, but the $200 price point (around $2,7o0 today) made the mixer a hard sell. In the 1930s, KitchenAid took a back seat to the much cheaper Sunbeam MixMaster.
Over the next decade, the company introduced a few updated versions: progressively smaller and lighter, but not cheaper. Enter Egmont Arens.
Designing an Iconic Product
“The first mixer was introduced in 1919, but it was Arens’ 1937 Model K design that really captivated consumers.” –KitchenAid
Egmont Arens in his studio, and alongside his futuristic city model. Photos via Modern Mechanix.
Ahead of His Time. World-renowned publisher, artist, designer, and “industrial humaneer,” Egmont Arens was commissioned to design a low-cost mixer for every kitchen. Arens was the Art Editor of Vanity Fair, and well known for his consumer-centric product design and packaging.
Arens’s specialty was designing products that sold well, from a juke box to a cigarette lighter to a baby carriage. His client list included G.E., Fairchild Aircraft, and the General American Transportation Company. He was also a master of turning practical devices into works of art; a great example of this is the meat slicer he had previously designed for Hobart.
Arens meat slicer for the Hobart Corporation. Photo via Cooper Hewitt.
Success at Last. Arens effectively transformed the KitchenAid into a mixer so beautiful that it was irresistible, and the Model K was released in 1937 to huge success. His sleek, modernistic mixer was far ahead of its time, and he set the design standard still employed by KitchenAids 80 years later. To this day, all KitchenAid components are compatible with the front attachment hub of every mixer made since 1937.
The 1937 Model K mixer, designed by Egmont Arens.
The classic design has changed little in 80 years, except for the game-changing introduction of color in 1955. The already irresistible mixer quickly became a cult classic, as the pop of color drove home KitchenAid’s aesthetic advantage over competitors. KitchenAid continues to introduce new colors and versions, such as the specialty Artisan Series, to keep the classic design fresh.
Much loved by celebrity chefs such as Julia Child and Martha Stewart, their endorsements safely secured the KitchenAid as a must-have in every modern kitchen. In 1997, the SFMOMA chose the KitchenAid mixer as an icon of American design.
Julia Child’s inscribed version (left), and Martha Stewart with hers (right, via Flourish).
The Making of KitchenAid
Below is a glimpse behind the scenes of how millions of KitchenAid mixers are made.
Mixer bases edges are ground down. All factory photos via the Dayton Business Journal.
End covers are selected and hung for painting.
Wire whisks are assembled from pieces of stainless steel.
Post-powder inspection of parts, before the baking portion of the powder-coating process.
Although individual parts are now produced around the world, each mixer itself is made in KitchenAid’s Greenville, Ohio factory. The factory employs over 1400 makers who paint, assemble, test, and package each and every KitchenAid mixer.