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The Cuisinart® Food Processor

CarlCarl G. Sontheimer died in March of this year, at the age of 83. He was an accomplished engineer, entrepreneur, and cook, most famous for giving America the Cuisinart®.

Born in New York in 1914, Sontheimer spent his boyhood in France, before earning an engineering degree at MIT, where he developed an enthusiasm for the study of microwave radiation but a severe disappointment with the food served at his fraternity.

After graduating, he invented a number of technical devices, most notably a microwave direction finder that NASA used in a mission to the moon. By the end of the 1960s, Sontheimer had founded, made successful, and sold an electronics and an engineering company. Many businessmen would have retired, but Sontheimer grew bored without a project.

In 1971, he decided to combine his business and technology expertise with his longtime love of cooking, and returned to France for inspiration. At a cookery show, Sontheimer discovered an elaborate industrial blender, which he saw could be adapted for the home. After a quick licensing agreement, and more than a year of painstaking modifications to every element of the device down to its name, Sontheimer marketed his "Cuisinart" (1973).

It took two years for the public to realize this was not just a fancy toy but a practical and versatile appliance, which could do all the chopping, grinding and blending of a standard blender, plus slicing, grating, kneading, and more—even in the hands of a modest cook. Often imitated but never equaled, since the mid-70s the Cuisinart® has been considered an indispensable item in many homes.

After selling the Cuisinart® company in 1987 for $42 million, Sontheimer finally focused on cooking, co-producing two cookbooks and a magazine. But it is as an innovator that he is best known: in his honor, MIT's Mechanical Engineering Department created the Carl G. Sontheimer Prize for Excellence in Innovation and Creativity in Design. The first annual Sontheimer Prize was won by 1998 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winner Akhil Madhani.

[May 1998]

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