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The Dawn of the Egg Beater

egg-beater.jpg
AN advertisement in 1899 showing the coveted family size Dover Egg Beater.

In the last half of the 19th century a new kind of egg beater came on the scene with the intent of reducing the time a cook needed to beat, whip or froth eggs. At first many of these devices were cumbersome, difficult and most didn't even live up to the claims of reducing its time. Gradually, however, as they improved the designs, one finally emerged that could do the work nearly perfectly. It didn't require much muscle, it did the job quickly, quietly and without a bulky hard to wash hunk of metal.

Of course anyone who has ever used a fork or wire whisk could certainly appreciate this time saving device. One time before the inventions of mechanical egg beaters, it was customary to whip egg yolks with a spoon and whites with a "broad-bladed knife" or "clean switches, peeled and dried", as one author in 1875 wrote. She went on to say this..."'Miss Leslie's 'Complete Cookery' will tell you all about it. (And, by the way, if you doubt that fashions change in cookery as in all else, I commend to your perusal this ancient manual.)" So I took the liberty to dig up the book she said we should peruse, but I could not find the egg beating information in the Complete Cookery by Miss Leslie. However in her book "The Lady's New Receipt Book" published in 1850 she did say this on beating eggs, giving us a little historical insight on how it was done:
"Persons who do not know the right way, complain much of the fatigue of beating eggs, and therefore leave off too soon. There will be no fatigue, if they are beaten with the proper stroke, and with wooden rods, and in a shallow, flat-bottomed earthen pan. The coldness of a tin pan retards the lightness of the eggs. For the same reason do not use a metal egg-beater. In beating them do not move your elbow, but keep it close to your side.

Move only your hand at the wrist, and let the stroke be quick, short, and horizontal; putting the egg-beater always down to the bottom of the pan, which should therefore be shallow. Do not leave off as soon as you have got the eggs into a foam; they are then only beginning to be light. But persist till after the foaming has ceased, and the bubbles have all disappeared. Continue till the surface is smooth as a mirror, and the beaten egg as thick as a rich boiled custard; for till then it will not be really light. It is seldom necessary to beat the whites and yolks separately, if they are afterwards to be put together. The article will be quite as light, when cooked..."

But why all this fuss over the beating of eggs? Well eggs were quite an important feature in cooking, esp. of cakes and muffins since they were "dependent for excellence upon the lightness and smoothness of beaten eggs. Unless yolks are whipped to a thick cream, and whites to a froth that will stand alone, the texture of cake will be coarse, and if the loaf be not heavy or streaked, there will be a crude flavor about it that will betray the fault at once to the initiated." Also oftentimes cakes and muffins relied only on eggs to make them rise. So eggs were pretty crucial in how your dessert or breakfast was to turn out. No one likes a heavy cake - right?

The Starting Off - Not so Great
The beginning days of the egg beater weren't all that glorious. Through the eyes of one housewife in 1875 we get a glimpse of the frustrations of these early devices that meant well but performed poorly.

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Then came a rush of patent egg-beaters, and a rush of purchasers as well, whose aching wrists and shoulders pleaded for relief from long hours of incessant " beating," " whipping," and " frothing." There were wire spoons with wooden handles that broke off, and tin handles that turned the perspiring hand black; wire whirligigs that ran up and down upon a central shaft and spattered the eggs over the face and bust of the operator; cylindrical tin vessels with whirligigs fastened in the centre, almost as good fun for the children as a monkey on a stick, but which bound the housewife to place and circumstance, since her eggs, many or few, yolks and whites, must all be churned in that vessel -- not an easy one to keep clean, on account of the fixture within it. There was altogether too much machinery for the end to be accomplished, and the white of a single egg was so hard to find in the bottom of a quart pail ! After a few trials, the cook tossed the "bothering thing" into a dark corner of the closet, and improvised a better beater out of two silver forks, held dexterously together.

Then, our enterprising "general furnishing" merchant overwhelmed us with a double compound back (and forward) action machine that was "warranted to whip up a stiff 'meringue in a minute and a half.'"

"I will not quite endorse that, ladies," said the most important tradesman in a community of housekeepers and housekept. "But I will stake my reputation upon its doing this in two minutes."

We all bought the prize. It looked cumbrous, and it was expensive, but time is money, and we remembered that a large snow-custard must be beaten ninety minutes with an ordinary egg-whip, and cake-frosting, thirty. We paid, each of us, our dollar and a half, and carried home the time-and-muscle-saver in a box of its own, so big that we chose back streets in preference to fashionable promenades, on our return. Trembling with exultation, we rushed into the kitchen to display the treasure. "

"Yes, mem ! What might it be, mem ? "
"Why, Katey ! an egg-beater ! and the greatest convenience ever manufactured ! " - "
"Ah ! and what a silly was meself , mem, to be thinking it -was a coffee-mill, when I saw you a-screwin' it on to the table ! "

We screwed it "on to the table," at a corner, for there was not room for it to revolve at sides and ends. Katey held a bowl with eggs in it at just the right elevation below; and by turning a crank we moved a many cogged wheel which fitted into another wheel, which turned a whirligig at the bottom. Katey held the bowl steadily; we worked very fast at the windlass-handle, and in eight minutes the meringue was ready.

"Well done!" cried housewives, one and all. "Great is the Grand duplex back (and forward) action Invention," for the amelioration of weary-wristed womankind ! To be sure, it takes two people to work it, unless one can hold the bowl firmly between the knees in just the right place, but it is undeniably a wonderful improvement.

"I," with the rest, cried, "wonderful!" even when the bowl tipped over on the kitchen-floor, with the yolks of ten eggs in it ; when I broke the screw by giving it one turn too many, and was blandly assured by the artificer in metals, to whom I took it for repairs, that " them cast-iron articles can't never be mended, ma'am, without it is by buying of a new one ; " even when the cogs of the wheels became rheumatic, and hitched groaningly at every round. But when one day, in full flight through a seething heap of icing, the steel strips of the triple whirligig that did the whipping, suddenly caught, the one upon the other, and came to a dead lock; when, as I would have released them by an energetic revolution of the wheel, they tore one another out by the roots, -- I arose in deadly calm; undid the screw, set the bowl on the table, straightened my cramped spine, and sent to the nearest tin-shop for a shilling whisk.

Four years ago, without prevision that one of the blessings of my life was coming upon me, I paid a visit to my "house-furnisher." He had a new egg-beater for sale.

"Vanitas vanitatum!" said I, theatrically waving it from me, "I am cured!"
"It comes well recommended," remarked he, quietly.
"But, as you say, so many of these things are humbugs !
"Will you oblige me by accepting this, giving it a fair trial, and letting me know just what it is? I will send it up with the rest of your articles."

For three Weeks -- I blush to write it -- THE DOVER hung untouched in my kitchen-closet, and I did daily penance for my sin of omission with the shilling whisk. At last I broke the latter, and with a slighting observation to the effect that "it might be better than none," I took down my gift. I beg you to believe that I am not in league with the patentee of my favorite. I do not know whether "Dover" stands for his name, that of the manufacturing company, or the place in which it was made. "Dover Egg-beater, Patented 1870," is stamped upon the circumference of the iron wheel.

I know nothing more of its antecedents. But if I could not get another I would not sell mine for fifty dollars -- nor a hundred. Egg-whipping ceased to be a bugbear to me from the day of which I speak. Light, portable, rapid, easy, and comparatively noiseless, my pet implement works like a benevolent browine. With it I turn out a meringue in five minutes without staying my song or talk; make the formidable " snow-custard " in less than half an hour, with no after tremulousness of nerve or tendon.

In its operation it is impartial, yolks thickening smoothly under it as easily as whites heighten into a compact snow-drift that can be cut into blocks with a knife. Winter and summer, it has served me with in-variable fidelity, and it is to all appearance, stanch as when it first passed into my reluctant hands. I hope the gentlemanly and benevolent donor will sell one thousand per annum for the remainder of his natural existence, and if length of days be a boon to be coveted, that the unknown patentee will live as many years as he has saved hours of labor to American housewives and cooks.
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So here we have it, the Dover egg beater emerges on the scene and even the most skeptical of cooks is quite taken with it. This invention really did pave the path for easier cooking. In 1879 this was written about the Dover egg beater, "The Dover egg-beater saves much time and trouble in beating eggs and will bent the yolks into as stiff a froth as the whites. It is well to have two egg-beaters, one for the yolks and the other for the whites."

Caring and Cleaning the Dover Egg Beater.
Specific care instructions were written in 1888 on how to care and clean the Dover Egg Beater. The advice, "A Dover egg-beater is a great time and strength saver ; and if you do not require two, a large and a small one, a medium-sized one will be found to do almost every thing required very nicely. If you ever hear any complaints that the egg-beater gets out of order quickly, you may be sure of one thing that it is not properly taken care of.

It should never be put into water and left to soak, the way some persons do with it ; the oil will be washed out, and the beater will be hard to turn, and will probably break from the amount of exertion used ; or, if it is used before it is dry, the oil and water will spatter into the beaten mixture. Use it with clean hands, and then the handle will require no washing ; wipe the wires with a damp cloth immediately after using, dry thoroughly, and keep it well oiled. In this way your egg-beater will be constantly ready for use, never out of order, and will be a perpetual delight."

To Name it Dover or Not to Name it Dover - That is the Question.
There soon came to be some debate as to the name of "Dover". As can be seen in the housewife's testament on egg beaters she writes, "I do not know whether " Dover " stands for his name, that of the manufacturing company, or the place in which it was made." So was it a brand, a place or just a term that egg beaters were given in general? Other companies began manufacturing similar egg beaters and calling them Dover Egg Beaters,

Evidently this was a great cause of confusion and even a case being opened over the use of the word Dover being applied to other companies making "Dover Egg Beaters". The Northeastern Reporter in 1895 writes about this case on pages 105-108, the case of Dover Stamping Co. v. Fellows. The end result is this...
"Trade Marks. -- The use of the word "Dover" merely as the name of a certain kind of egg beater will not constitute such word a trade mark so
as to entitle the proprietor, after his patent has expired, to enjoin its use by a manufacturer of other egg beaters." and "Looking at the whole case, in the light of the defendants' right to use the word "Dover" and to make egg beaters similar in construction and general appearance to those of the plaintiff, we find no proof of anything unlawful on their part Bill dismissed."

So from then on Dover became a general term applied to similar egg-beaters whether made by Dover Stamping Co or other companies. An example of this we can see in the advertisement for "Dover Egg Beater" {shown at the outset of this article} was manufactured by the company Taplin.

The Cost of Convenience
In the early 1870s a contraption called an egg beater could run you $1.50. By 1880 the Dover egg beater, the "second" {probably family} sized could be purchased for $1.25. But as time wore on and these kinds of egg beaters became more common rather than specialty the prices came down and by 1912 you could pick one up for only about five cents. Then in 1916 {speaking to men who will be using the beater to mix chemical formulas} it could be "purchased for ten cents at any variety store (if you cannot borrow your wife's) and works well". Try finding one for 5 or 10 cents now - not hardly! But you can pick up one of these originals at a cost of $35 - $200 dollars.

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