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The Sunbeam® "Mixmaster"

Ivar In the years between the First and Second World Wars, Ivar Jepson designed and built dozens of kitchen appliances, including the indomitable Sunbeam "Mixmaster."

Born in Sweden in 1903, Jepson loved to design things as a boy, studied engineering as a youth, and went to Germany to pursue graduate studies in mechanical engineering. But he soon decided to emigrate to the United States. In 1925, sojourning in Chicago on his way to North Dakota, Jepson was captivated by the big city; and he found a home away from home at the local Swedish Engineer's Club.

Jepson found work at the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company, a maker of tools for grooming farm animals that 15 years earlier (1910) had formed an offshoot, Sunbeam, to produce kitchen appliances. In just five years, Jepson became Sunbeam's head designer.

From 1925 to 1930 Jepson and his design teams earned numerous patents for kitchen devices: some were improved versions of items, like toasters, already in use, and some were novelties that expanded the idea of how much help machines could be in the kitchen. Jepson's supreme achievement was the Mixmaster, patented in 1928 and 1929, and first mass marketed in 1930.

Up to that time, there were mechanical mixers for sale, most notably the single-beater, milkshake-maker style mixer patented by L.H. Hamilton, Chester Beach and Fred Osius in 1911. Jepson's mixer had two detachable beaters whose blades interlocked; the motor that drove them was encased in a perpendicular, pivoting arm that extended out over the mixing bowl; and the machine as a whole was more stable and quiet than its competition. The Mixmaster was an enormous success, making Sunbeam literally a household name in the early 1930s---even though the Great Depression was then at its worst.

Like many natural inventors, Jepson never stopped improving his basic designs. He improved the motor and controls of his mixer, and added a number of attachments, without altering the basic design---which was quite sleek for its time. By 1940, a full generation before the marketing of the modern food processor, Jepson's Mixmaster could make juice, peel fruit, shell peas, press pasta, and grind coffee; it could also open tin cans, sharpen knives, and polish silverware.

It is proof of Ivar Jepson's talent that the 60th Anniversary Edition of "the mixer America grew up with," released by Sunbeam in 1990, differed very little from Jepson's first model. Today, amidst all the modern gadgets that have appeared in American kitchens, some version of Jepson's best known invention often stands as a venerable classic.


[May 1999]

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