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Things That Matter: The labor-saving rotary eggbeater

Before the invention of the mechanical rotary eggbeater, it took 90 minutes to whip egg whites to a stiff meringue. Eliza Leslie, who wrote household management tips in the 19th century, offered detailed advice about using wrist-action to reduce the effort required, but the tiring chore still took too long.

However, civilization marches forward with ongoing efforts to reduce human labor. After centuries of hand-whipped eggs, the first American mechanical eggbeater was invented in 1857. Unfortunately, this clamp-on device was so awkward to use that Miss Leslie strongly advised against it.

Undaunted, inventors kept trying. By the 1870s, the Dover cast-iron rotary eggbeater hit the market and revolutionized cooking in American kitchens. Now, that 90-minute chore took just 5 minutes. Cooks all over the country could rest their weary arms and still produce light, fluffy egg whites. In fact, Dover eggbeaters became so common that all eggbeaters were called Dovers, even when manufactured by another company.

This rotary eggbeater from the Hixon House collection is a Dover pattern eggbeater, manufactured between 1903 and 1908, by Taplan Manufacturing in New Britain, Conn. Clarence Taplin patented his design as an improvement on the Dover model, claiming his beater was stronger, easier to make and more durable.

In 1903, this eggbeater could have been purchased at any one of the 10 hardware stores listed in the La Crosse city directory. Fifteen years earlier, such a fancy tool would have cost more than a dollar, but, by the turn of the century, these beaters were so common they could be purchased for less than 10 cents.

The quest for labor saving devices continued. By the middle of the 20th century, electric mixers made whipping eggs nearly effortless.

Still, in spite of the ease of an electric mixer, it’s worth noting that Taplan’s durable rotary eggbeater is more than 100 years old and works as well as ever. Can the same be said of any modern electric handmixer?

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