Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

Cool Things not Invented in China

Posted by w_thames_the_d on February 4, 2011


This post is way off topic but pretty cool. It comes from http://www.maximumpc.com
The article is about the 25 coolest kitchen inventions of all time. If you want to feel old, check out how many of these things you remember from your youth…

Mortar and Pestle

1500 B.C. (est.)

mortorpestle.jpg

Put a rock inside a bowl and you’ve got the mortar and pestle, perhaps the first multi-functional kitchen gadget ever invented. In ancient times, it could grind spices and grains, turn herbs into medicine, and pulverize small stones into pigments for painting. Today, it gives us that holiest of foodstuffs: guacamole.

Fondue Pot

early 1800s

fondue-1338.jpg

Fondue—melted cheese plus various additives, depending on the recipe—began its life in Switzerland and France around 1800 or so, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the improbable dish hit its stride in the United States. Fondue pots now range from simple crocks heated with tea candles or Sterno to gargantuan electric models that create a fountain of goo three feet high (and are typically used with chocolate). Either way, it’s all fattening, liquid goodness to us.

A1 Heeley Double-Lever Corkscrew

1880

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Wine may be a sophisticate’s beverage, but the act of removing a cork from a bottle can often be a barbaric experience. H.S. Heeley solved that problem when, in 1888, he patented an improvement on William Burton Baker’s double-winged lever corkscrew concept (which had received its own patent in 1880). Heeley’s design—which affixed Baker’s wings to a top collar, something Baker omitted, perhaps in a drunken stupor—became the basis for the most enduring corkscrew system ever, lasting for over a century until the modern “rabbit” design emerged. The example you see here was sourced by Don Bull of www.corkscrewmuseum.com, home to all manner of clever cork-extracting devices—some of which look disturbingly like Civil War–era surgical tools.

Sunbeam Mixmaster

1930

sunbeammixmaster.jpg

One fawning website pays homage to the Mixmaster by calling it “the most beloved kitchen appliance of the 20th century,” and that may not be far from the truth. Invented by Swedish engineer Ivar Jepson in 1928 and brought to market in 1930, the Mixmaster was the first stand-up mixer with dual, interlocking beaters, which made it more efficient than the competition—namely the single-beater handheld. Though it launched at the height of the Great Depression, the Mixmaster single-handedly made Sunbeam a household name. This sparkling example of Scandinavian enterprise was sourced from www.OldGreenCanoe.etsy.com.

Electric Can Opener

1931

can_opener-1393.jpg

Before the invention of the can opener, how did one open a tin can? With a freakin’ hammer and chisel, that’s how. Early manual can openers were little more than bizarrely shaped knives that you levered into a can’s lid to pry it open. It wasn’t until 1931 that high-tech got in on the action with the invention of the electric can opener. Today’s industrial-strength openers can crack open up to 12 cans per minute, as your local lunch lady knows all too well.

Automatic Dishwasher

1937

kitchenad_wash.jpg

It’s the rare lazy bastard who must resort to machinery for washing dishes. Er, wait a sec. That’s just about all of us. The dishwasher is unique on this list in that its sole purpose is to clean up the mess that the other items on our list create. Today’s dishwasher design hasn’t changed much since 1937, which is when kitchens first began receiving permanently installed dishwashers, complete with rotating sprayers and fold-down doors (though, as you see here, in those original “electric sinks,” the doors were placed on top). Nowadays, dishwashers give sloppy chefs carte blanche to use every dish and utensil in the kitchen over the course of an evening—as long as they’re labeled “dishwasher safe,” of course.

Toshiba Rice Cooker

1955

rice_cooker-1461.jpg

The Western world largely pooh-poohs the idea of the automatic rice cooker, as rice can be prepared quite easily on the stove top. But this position fails to acknowledge just how much rice is consumed in Asia, where it’s often served at three meals a day. The automatic rice cooker, invented by Toshiba in 1955, took much of the hassle out of rice preparation. Modern units now commonly include overnight timers, alarms, and special monitors to test whether your rice is done.

Chop-o-Matic

1956

ronco_chopper-1445.jpg

The godfather of kitchen gadgetry, Ron Popeil (see below) introduced his first gizmo, the Chop-o-Matic, at the exact, perfect time. With our economy booming through the 1950s, and housewives pining for less family-focused servitude (think proto versions of Betty Draper), Popeil’s appliance tore through vegetables in a flash, slicing and dicing them with just a couple of manual compressions. The Chop-o-Matic’s success—sales in excess of two million units—launched an empire that continues today (albeit under new ownership), and spawned dozens of imitators, including the curiously named Slap Chop, which sounds like either a martial arts technique or a cut of beef.

In His Own Words: Ron Popeil

ron-popeil---showtime.jpg

Ron Popeil specializes in kitchen gadgets (his dad, Samuel, invented the Chop-o-Matic), and is one of the most successful “serial inventors” of all time. He’s the “Ron” in Ronco, a TV pitchman of historical proportions, and has been responsible for the Showtime Rotisserie, Pocket Fisherman, and Hair in a Can. We share his wisdom here.

“The most wonderful thing about the infomercial business is that you only need one weekend to know if you have a success. If you make more money than the TV time costs, you’ve got a hit.

When television started, anything you put on TV would sell. Anything. Anybody that went on television with direct response was making money.

I’m working on a new product. It’s a deep fryer. It comes out next year. You say, “Why do we need another deep fryer, Ron?” Other deep fryers—they just don’t deliver. I was inspired by the turkey fryer, but it’s so dangerous and you can’t use it inside. This fryer is safe to use indoors, and can handle a 15-pound turkey. But wait: People don’t have big kitchens. What if I could deliver to you a small machine that you could keep on your counter every day? This fryer uses olive oil. And it’s not just for turkeys. Two chickens in 20 minutes. Chicken fried steak. Perfect French fries. Potato chips take a minute and a half. Have you ever had fried avocado? Fried watermelon? It’s called Popeil’s Olive Oil Country Fryer.”

Hasbro Easy-Bake Oven

1963

easy_bake-1488.jpg

In the early 1960s, Hasbro answered the question the world had been wondering about for years: Was it possible to bake a cake using the heat from a standard light bulb? It’s tiny, sure, but an incandescent filament reaches thousands of degrees Celsius (literally “white hot”), heating the surrounding air just enough to turn a puddle of goo into a two-bite cake in eight minutes. Hasbro has gone to extreme lengths to keep kids from putting their hands in the scorch chamber, but to mixed success. Including the tyke who required a partial finger amputation, 249 kids were hurt before the most recent recall in 2007.

Electric Carving Knife

1964

electric_knife-1432.jpg

The brainchild of inveterate inventor Jerome Murray—he also invented the airplane boarding ramp—the electric carving knife was a response to the belief that women of the early 1960s were so harried in the kitchen that, after preparing dinner, they were too tired and weak to actually cut the food they had spent all day cooking. The electric carving knife is largely a novelty item today, but for a dedicated few, Thanksgiving just isn’t complete without the buzz and whirr of a very small reciprocating saw.

Amana Radarange

1967

kitchenad_radarrange.jpg

Using microwave technology in the kitchen got its start in 1947 (like early computers, they were the size of refrigerators), but it took 20 years for the technology to shrink down in size and price to become acceptable to the masses. The watershed 1967 Amana Radarange looks a lot like today’s microwave oven, only larger, heavier, and with analog knobs. They were hardly eye-pleasing, but by the 1970s, microwave ovens had nonetheless become essential tools not just for reheating leftovers but, in some homes, for preparing entire (albeit disgusting) meals.

Trash Compactor

1968

kitchenaidcompactor2.jpg

In the 1970s and ’80s, the trash compactor was every suburban kitchen’s must-have symbol of conspicuous consumption. Tucked away between the range and the dishwasher, there it sat, waiting to take your garbage and make it… smaller. It ultimately became so ingrained in pop culture that the compactor was famously futurized in the original Star Wars (remember when our heroes were stuck in the Death Star junk pit with the closing-in walls?) and later anthropomorphized by Pixar as the lovable WALL-E.

Sunbeam Seal-a-Meal

1970 (est.)

sealameal-2270.jpg

Air out. Freshness in. Seal-a-Meal is a vacuum-sealing food storage system that, according to the company, lets you store perishables for five times as long as in a baggie or Tupperware container. It’s unclear whether anyone has ever actually successfully used a Seal-a-Meal for its intended purpose (ahem), but the device and its ilk have since found a second life as an essential component in sous vide cooking.

Cuisinart Food Processor

1971

cuisinart-elite-food-processor.jpg

Now an essential item from commercial kitchens to the average suburban home, the Cuisinart food processor exploded in popularity after Julia Child registered her approval for it in the mid-1970s. The food processor may look like an oversized blender, but inside it hides genuine knife blades that spin at several thousand RPM, helping you transform any solid into a fine liquid mush with just a few taps of the “pulse” button. Yep, sometimes relying on your all-purpose chef’s knife isn’t the quickest path.

Willy Wonka Candy Factory Kit

1971

willy_wonka-1480.jpg

To promote the theatrical release of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Quaker Cereals marketed this “candy factory” kit, which included all the molds, candy wrappers and scrumdidilyumtious doodads one needed to go into the chocolate bar business. The price for the factory was a mere $1, plus two proof-of-purchase seals from Cap’n Crunch, Life, or King Vitamin cereals. The scheme proved to be a rather convoluted strategy for children wishing to attain chocolate bars en masse, but more than a few industrious kiddies carried the ruse to completion by not just manufacturing chocolate bars, but also selling them door-to-door. This distribution path not only prevented children from eating their own inventory, but trumped curbside lemonade vendors, who lacked the marketing muscle of a major motion picture.

Mr. Coffee

1972

original_mr_coffee_sm_02.jpg

In the 1960s, percolators fed America’s growing coffee addiction by recirculating boiling hot, previously brewed coffee through already extracted grounds. The result? A bitter (if not aggressively caffeinated) mess. The madness changed in 1972 with the introduction of the home drip coffeemaker, courtesy of Mr. Coffee. The gadget’s success can be chalked up to one key quality: It really did make the best coffee you could get at home.

5 Responses to “Cool Things not Invented in China”

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