Artifact Corner: Victorian Rotary Egg Beater

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a piece of kitchen equipment that we may take for granted. This is a rotary egg beater or a rotary whisk. The rotary whisk was a fantastic time saving device, and every late Victorian cook would have wanted one. Ours does have some writing on the front of it, but we have yet to be able to decipher it. To operate the whisk, you would simply put the beaters into whatever you need to mix, and crank the handle. The beaters will spin, and viola, your ingredients will be blended or you could make a mixture u y by incorporating air. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of whisks.

The concept of whisking ingredients dates back thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans whisked their foods to incorporate air to different dishes. They of course were not using a rotary whisk like ours. They would use bundles of sticks tied together. Now, if you are thinking of running out and grabbing a bundle of sticks to give this a whirl (pun intended) you can’t use just any old twigs. Most period whisks are made from a very special wood that remains flexible when dry. The best wooden whisks are made from either birch or silver hazel. Both are strong but flexible which is great for hard work in the kitchen. Other options would be apple wood or peach wood. In Asia, bamboo would be used for wooden whisks. Another way that food could be mixed was with a wooden spoon, a method most of us still use today.

It was in the Victorian period that metal whisk are invented and become incredibly popular. The wire whisk was invented sometime around the late 1830’s or early 1840’s. The rotary whisk or rotary egg beater was Invented by Willis Johnson, and was patented in 1884. Originally he intended the device as a mixing machine not simply to whisk eggs. The rotary beater transfers the action of whisking into gears, which saves a lot of effort for the user. It converts slow rotation into a much faster rotation that works through two bevels in opposite directions. It works by hand cranking the large double-sided drive wheel which transmits the motion of the handle to the two bevel pinions that spin the beaters. Most of the modern stand mixers have their origins in the rotary whisk.

Today we have the option to use hand held mixers, which accomplish the same thing as the rotary whisk. We also now have stand mixers for more heavy duty jobs, and are real labor savers. Our rotary whisk is in good condition, although there is some rust on the steel components. It still works just like it’s brand new, but we won’t be mixing anything up with it any time soon. It’s a reminder of the hard work every cook endured preparing meals in the Victorian period, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

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