From Sheep Shearing to Mixing: The Sunbeam Mixmaster

Last Updated 1/11/2024

By Jubilee P. Reid

Original Publish Date: November 9, 2023

On display in the Modern Conveniences exhibit at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum is an 88-year-old Sunbeam Mixmaster. Once a modern kitchen tool, this stand mixer has long passed its age of popularity although there are a few like it still in use today.

The once famous brand, Sunbeam, had its beginnings in a small organization named the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company, a manufacturer of farm machinery, particularly sheep shearing equipment and horse clippers. This company was founded in 1893 by John Kirwin Stewart (1870 – 1916) and Thomas Jefferson Clark (1869 – 1907). In an effort to keep up with the American Industrial Revolution, John Stewart and Thomas Clark founded another business to produce automobile parts and this organization evolved into the still operating Stewart Warner Corporation. Thomas Clark died in 1907 after receiving fatal injuries in an automobile accident while demonstrating the speedometers they produced.

 In 1908 John Stewart’s nephew, L. H. LaChance, took over the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company and began producing electric household appliances in 1910 under the name Sunbeam, which would include mixers, coffeemakers, waffle makers, toasters, irons, razors, hairdryers, and clocks. The leadership of the company changed hands multiple times and beginning in the 1930’s was led by Horace Caldwell Wright, a long-time employee. Under Wright’s direction it became “the world’s largest manufacturer of small electrical appliances,” according to the Chicago Tribune. During World War II, production on household goods ceased to make way for the war effort, and the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company manufactured many instruments for the military leading to Wright receiving the Army-Navy “E” Award for Excellence in Production in 1943. In 1946, with the post war industry booming, the entire Chicago Flexible Shaft Company was re-organized as the Sunbeam Corporation and produced solely home appliances, which was a long way from the original sheep shearing industry.

In 1925, a Swedish engineer, Ivar Per Jepson (1903 – 1968), immigrated to the U.S. and began working for the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company as a draftsman. Within five years he was the head designer of Sunbeam products and was involved in over 600 patents. The first Mixmaster, designed mainly by Jepson, was patented in 1929 and was marketed in 1930. This first model was much more stable and quieter than the few other mixers available. By 1940, the Mixmasters could perform many of the same tasks as modern food processors, including peeling and juicing fruit, pressing pasta, shelling peas, grinding coffee, opening tin cans, sharpening knives, and polishing silverware!

According to Jepson’s daughter, Brit Marie Jepson d’Arbeloff, her father was always tinkering with new engineering ideas. She said, “As long as you could plug it in and move its parts, it was something he was interested in.” She also remarked that he tested many of his ideas around their home and most of his experimental devices such as electric blankets and frying pans, would shock you if you touched them. According to d’Arbeloff, one of her father’s gadgets “was an electric hair straightener which no one in our family would get near!”

The jadeite bowls for the Sunbeam mixers were produced by the McKee Glass Company of Jeanette, Pennsylvania. (The town was named after Jeanette McKee, the wife of the founder of the glass company.) Established in 1853, the McKee Glass Company began manufacturing jadeite in 1930, the same time that the Mixmasters were being introduced. They became one of the three largest producers of this glassware. McKee made their jadeite by adding green glass to their milk glass formula, introducing Skokie green, a lighter shade than jade.

The mixer in the museum’s collection is the Sunbeam Model 1, manufactured beginning May 16, 1935. Standing 13 inches tall, it has a 120-watt, 10 speed motor and a 9-inch-wide jadeite bowl. Each of its two beaters has four blades and in former years it had a juicer attachment on top. This model could also be used as a hand mixer. Although labeled as model 1, there were at least seven versions of the Mixmaster prior to this one. There was even a toy Mixmaster called the “Mixmaster Junior” which was a 25-watt, 110 volt, 9-inch-tall model and held a four-inch bowl. Contrary to many stand mixers of today such as Kitchen Aid, the beaters on Mixmasters are stationary. Instead of the beaters rotating to reach all sides of the bowl, they spin in place and the bowl rotates.

In the 1950’s, advertisements stated that “Sun-BEAM” stood for “Best Electrical Appliances Made.” The last of the Mixmasters was made in the mid-1960’s although Sunbeam manufactured a few other stand mixers after that. Today there are still many of these antique mixers available in working condition.

The mixer on display is believed to have been a wedding present to Euretta Marion Doar and William Porter Biddle Jr. who were married on July 29, 1935. It was donated to the museum in 1996 by their son, Thomas Biddle of Athens who says this mixer, “has been around as long as I can remember.” One can only imagine the number of cakes, cookies, and breads this mixer has stirred in its lifespan.

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