How This 100-Year-Old Appliance Transformed Home Cooking as We Know It
When I think of my mama's kitchen, the first thing I picture is her pristine white KitchenAid stand mixer. I remember hunching over the mixer as I made my first batch of rainbow cupcakes, marveling at the bright ribbons of color streaking the batter. I remember how my mom stood by as I learned to whip cream cheese icings and kneaded my first bread dough, and that one time when I (unsuccessfully) experimented with homemade gnocchi. Later, I'd go on to work in a bakery, spending my high school afternoons baking shortbread and making royal icing in a mixer much like my mother's. Baking has always been a part of the fabric of my family's kitchens, and no matter the setting, there would always be a KitchenAid stand mixer, sitting regally on the countertop.
This year, the KitchenAid stand mixer celebrates its 100th anniversary. The Model H-5 product first launched in 1919, and the company gained its name from the executive's wife, who called the mixer "the best kitchen aid." While the 1919 design more resembles a microscope with its tall, mechanical frame, the stainless steel bowl sitting in its holster is still instantly recognizable. In 1937, the Model K mixer debuted the stationary bowl and the sleek, trademarked silhouette that we recognize today. Over the century, KitchenAid released other appliances—a dishwasher (1949), a refrigerator (1986), a food processor (1993)—but none more iconic than the stand mixer.
The design itself is sleek, elegant, and efficient: But more importantly, it's built to perform, and to perform well. Even the first Model H-5 KitchenAid mixers offered attachments to serve a variety of culinary purposes. From 1937 mixers onwards, KitchenAid attachments are universally compatible with any stand mixer (and KitchenAid guarantees it)—a testament to the virtually unchanged and durable design. The mixer runs at ten speeds with over 80 historic attachments designed for myriad tasks, from meat grinding to spiralizing to pasta making.
If you've ever whipped cream by hand, you'll understand why cooks and bakers rejoiced at the development of this appliance. The electric mixer revolutionized baking, making it easier and quicker than ever to make batters, icings, and just about anything from scratch.
The earliest stand mixers found their home in commercial kitchens, and the appliance's first major market was the military. "Military chefs needed to feed a lot of people and cooked in bulk all day long, and updating kitchens was the best solution," writes Sarra Sedghi for MyRecipes. "By 1917, all U.S. Navy ships were equipped with model H mixers."
Soon, a sleeker, lightweight home mixer entered the market. The price was quite steep (in today's prices, author Kim Voss estimates that the mixer would cost over $1,000), but for those who could afford it, the stand mixer completely transformed the fabric of home cooking. "The early 20th century saw a shift away from live-in servants, meaning many women were now cooking for their families for the first time," Sedghi writes. With the help of a KitchenAid, women could cook an elaborate, multi-course meal in a fraction of the time it would have previously taken.
According to Sedghi and Voss, the KitchenAid stand mixer "wasn't just a minor convenience"—it was groundbreaking. Not only did it dramatically slash the time and labor required for home cooking, but it also allowed home cooks access to professional techniques. The mixer's attachments enabled home cooks to churn out paper-thin pasta and homemade ice cream. And slowly, the appliance began to make its way into American households.
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Even 100 years later, the mixer continues to provide home cooks access to a degree of professionalism and technique that would be otherwise unachievable. Kim-Joy Hewlett, an amateur-turned-professional baker who appeared on the Great British Baking Show, confesses that the one thing every home cook should own is a KitchenAid stand mixer. "As a baker, I think a stand [Kitchen Aid] mixer is worth the splurge as it speeds up a lot of processes, and there are certain baking techniques that require it (e.g. Italian meringue)," Hewlett says.
Throughout the years, the KitchenAid mixer has stood at the top of its class. While some adjustments have been made since Model K debuted in 1937—the mixer is now offered in various colors, and some feature a bowl-lift function—the appliance's spirit and functionality have not wavered. Sedghi argues that part of the reason the KitchenAid mixer has stuck around for so long is its cross-generational sensibility. The universally compatible attachments meant that accessories would last pretty much forever. "It also meant that women could pass down their KitchenAid mixers and extensions to their daughters," Sedghi writes.
I frequently joke that I'll know I've made it when I invest in my own KitchenAid stand mixer. I'd like it to be pale yellow or powder blue. Secretly, I'm still hoping my mother will bestow hers to me, although I know the chances that she'll part with the beloved appliance are slim. But the idea of owning my very own KitchenAid mixer represents some kind of culinary mastery, an investment in my identity as a baker and a home cook. Because as much as the KitchenAid stand mixer is an object of nostalgia, reminding of childhood mornings baking with my mother, it's also a symbol of aspiration. The KitchenAid stand mixer represents endless culinary possibilities—the mixer, along with its endless attachments, exudes professionalism. It exemplifies the ability to create more in a home kitchen.
So cheers to 100 years of the KitchenAid stand mixer and to many more years of home baking.