Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mixing It Up for Black History Month

There are many monthly food celebrations enveloped in February. Today, I would like to examine the patent of the "egg beater" as a tribute to Black History Month.

African American Inventions

Truth be told, I had every intention of beginning this month with a posting about the ice cream scoop. "The ice cream scoop!" you exclaim. "It's freeeeezing outside." I was going to title the post Happy Birthday to the Ice Cream Scoop because, like the can opener which was invented after the invention of the can, the prototype for the ice cream scoop, as we know it today, was invented after the invention of ice cream. I know, this stuff gets muddled once in a while. Any hoo, since this blog is a calendar of sorts, I try to coincide the days with relevance. It may be too cold outside to seriously think about scooping gallons of ice cream but, the patent was awarded to an African American by the name of Alfred L. Cralle on February 2, 1897. I missed the date, however, can you see why I wanted to wish the ice cream scoop a happy birthday? Imagine an ice cream party without a scoop. Oh, btw, Cralle was only 30 years old when he was awarded the patent.

Fact is, there are many black inventors who have contributed to the success of the modern kitchen. I'm sure with the election of our new President, Inventors' Day, which is celebrated on the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Edison, also in February will be a popular day to explore some of these inventions. However, I have chosen today for a reason. But, let's first visit a few other inventions by African American inventors.

Did you know, A. P. Ashbourne, an African American, invented the biscuit cutter patented on November 30, 1875. Certainly you have heard of chemist and engineer Norbert Rillieux who revolutionized the sugar processing industry. His patent, number 4,879 was issued on December 10, 1846. His discovery not only made an improvement to the process of sugar making in Louisiana, many other countries adopted his process in their factories. I wonder how George Washington Carver, acknowledged for his tremendous work with peanuts, would feel about the peanut butter predicament we find ourselves exposed to. In the historic timeline of truck refrigeration, there stands a place for another African American by the name of Frederick McKinley Jones. Frederick McKinley Jones is often credited with "transforming the food industry and America's eating habits with his invention of a practical refrigeration system for trucks and railroad cars." Another transportation invention associated with a black American is the invention of the first biscuit mix. It was invented by an African American porter who worked for George M. Pullman an inventor in his own right. It was also a Pullman chef by the name of Rufus Estes who wrote the book Good Things To Eat in 1911. His book of recipes is available online at the Gutenberg Project.

Mixing It Up

When it comes to kitchen appliances, there are two African American inventors credited with labor saving devices that come to mind. First, there is inventor Rufus M. Eastman who was granted a patent (November 17, 1885) for the first electric mixer (blender) powered by electric or water and Willis (Willie) Johnson who received a patent for an "Egg Beater" (U.S. pat# 292,821) on February 5, 1884. Today!

...The object of my invention is to provide a machine wherewith eggs, batter, and other similar ingredients used by bakers, confectioners, can be beaten or mixed in the most intimate and expeditious manner. The machine consists, essentially, of a main frame within which is journaled a driving-wheel and a pinion or pulley, the horizontal shaft of the latter having at its opposite ends clutches or sockets, with which are engages square or other non-circular arbors at the inner extremities of a pair of beater shafts. Theses shafts, which are armed with suitable blades, beaters, or stirrers, are journaled in cylinders that occupy detachable trays or racks applied to the opposite sides of the main frame, hooks and staples or the convenient devices being employed for retaining said racks in their proper places. As a result of this construction, either one or the other of both cylinders can be readily applied to the racks, and the latter can be coupled to the machine, so as to insure a very rapid revolution is applied to the driving-wheel, as hereinafter more fully described...

As luck would have it, there is a short article about Willis Johnson and the invention of the egg beater @ the Old Foodie. Janet wrote the article which also includes a bit of history about the first cookbook ever written by an African American, in February of 2007. It's too bad it is so difficult finding out more personal information about people such as Willis Johnson. I don't want to dig deep, I would just like to know the steps by which a man follows to create such innovation. We know he was born in Cincinnati Ohio, but when? As an African American it must have been difficult in 1884, how? And naturally, I would like to know, Why?

I'm not leaving a recipe today from one of my cookbooks. IMHO, in the spirit of Black History Month, it might be interesting to explore or perhaps create a recipe from Good Things to Eat by Rufus Estes. Why not choose one of these chocolate cake recipes, February is also Celebration of Chocolate Month!

Don't forget,  National Fettucini Alfredo Day, February 7th. Enjoy...

1. Canny Cooks (It's Canned Food Month)
2. Black Inventors and Inventions (quick list)
3. Black Inventors...Extraordinary Inventions! (quick list)
4. The Genuine Scoop
5. A Revolution in Sugar Processing
6. African American Women Inventors
7. Frederick McKinley Jones
8. George M. Pullman
9. Good Things to Eat
10. The History of the Blender
11. The Black Inventor Online Museum
12. African Americans in Food Service (an online exhibit)


  1. Leave it to you to uncover the most incredible information! I had no idea!

  2. What a fascinating article. I love to find out new things about food, and in this case kitchen appliance inventors. This will be a great month.

  3. All this is new to me. Thanks for aharing. I have been toying with what Im going to do post wise for Black History month. Maybe an Edna Lewis recipe? Hope I have the time.

  4. It was such fun to share these tidbits for Black History Month T.W. Thanks for noshing...

    It certainly is going to be an appetizing month Janet.

    An Edna Lewis recipe would make a perfect addition to Black History Month, glamah. I can't wait to see which recipe you post.

  5. Thanks for this important article, at least we know now the contribution of the African-Americans to American food culture. They are great men, although sad that it's only now they are being given recognition, and maybe you are the first blogger to do so. I have heard about Mr. George Washington Carver during my primary school years, great inventor!

  6. I'm glad you enjoyed this post Dennis. Yes, Carver is sometimes referred to as the "Peanut Man" in the most respectful way. Thanks for dropping in, Dennis...

  7. Thanks for the shout out and love Louise. I may have to mention a few of these inventions if time permits.

  8. You are so welcome, Courtney. You just concentrate on whipping up that magic of yours!!! AND, Have FUN!

  9. what a great post and so much good information. Good job, and I just found you!

  10. Welcome 50s gal,
    I just visited your blog. Holy COW! You have taken on quite the endeavor. I wish you much luck and FUN living in the 50s.

    Drop in any time. The latchstring is always out...

  11. Very cool post! I've learned something new. Thanks!


  12. Hi Paz,
    Thanks for dropping by. I'm delighted you enjoyed this post. It was an enlightening post for me also.

  13. 2 thumbs up for your blog! I loved the way you have discussed issues relating to Amercian women inventors.

  14. Thank you for your kind words, American Women inventors. May I suggest you visit my Tasteful Inventions blog. I've discussed a few more women inventors there. For instance, did you know the dishwasher and brown grocery bags were both invented by women!

  15. Thanks for this post, now this is the great opportunity for stay at home moms earn money with their innovative ideas.


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise