The mysterious appeal of the KitchenAid mixer
Has it really stood the test of time?
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Julia Child's KitchenAid is on display in the Smithsonian, and in more recent times the mixer has become an Instagram darling, joining a select group of colorful kitchen standouts as a status symbol of adulthood.
How did a humble stand mixer achieve such fame—and after all these years and countless challengers for the throne, is it still worthy of its position?
The KitchenAid's long history
The forerunner to the mixer that we know and love today was unveiled sometime around 1920. Hobart, a maker of large commercial kitchen supplies, introduced the Model H-5, a smaller home version of its electric mixer. As legend has it, the wife of a company executive described the mixer as “the best kitchen aid” she'd ever owned, and thus a brand name was born.
The time-saving benefits of the H-5 were immediately apparent, but it was tall and heavy, and with a price of around $189—that's $2,459 in today's dollars—retailers were reluctant to carry it. So KitchenAid created a door-to-door salesforce of mostly women, which helped popularize the product.
It remained an uphill battle for some time. Competitors arrived quickly, with Sunbeam Mixmaster taking the lead and holding it for decades.
From the outset, extending the versatility of these devices through the use of attachments became core to the electric mixer's appeal: juice extraction, meat grinding, can opening, chopping, peeling—"the food mixer that 'does it all,'" as described in an early KitchenAid advertisement.
In 1937, designer Egmont Arens led a major remodel of the KitchenAid to make it more appealing in the kitchen. The Model K, as it was known, bore nearly all the attributes that a modern audience would recognize: the streamlined horizontal design, the bright enamel finish, and the locking bowl among them.
Additional colors were added in the 1950s, and the KitchenAid gradually became an item to showcase on the countertop rather than something to be hidden away in a cupboard.
In 1986, Hobart sold KitchenAid to its current owners, Whirlpool, which expanded the KitchenAid brand to encompass everything from dishwashers to refrigerators and beyond. They also began releasing the mixer in what is now an ever-expanding range of colors. But carefully maintaining tradition has been central to the brand. Every stand mixer is still assembled in the factory in Greenville, Ohio, and—remarkably—every KitchenAid attachment made since the 1930s is still fully compatible with the mixers manufactured today.
Status symbol in the social media age
The KitchenAid stand mixer has been a fixture on wedding registries, cooking shows, and the pages of designer kitchen magazines for decades, but it's gotten a new push in the social media age. Multiple Facebook groups center on its care and use. On Instagram, the tag #kitchenaidmixer has garnered over 100,000 posts.
As Amanda Mull points out in article for The Atlantic, KitchenAid mixers, along with Le Creuset Dutch ovens, "[have] become small markers of stability and sophistication, coveted by young people for whom traditional indicators of both often remain out of reach."
While some millennials may find themselves grappling with the question of whether the purchase is more practical or symbolic (not to mention a separate struggle with the price tag), they might perhaps find comfort in the knowledge that a KitchenAid mixer—with the proper care—can be one of those rare "lifetime" products that will stay with you through your baking sprees and slumps. In other words, it will be ready whenever you are.
KitchenAid versus everyone else
As it has been at nearly every point in its history, KitchenAid is surrounded by a number of worthy competitors. But according to experts, its seemingly unassailable position in the market is well-earned, topping the rankings on nearly every magazine and website.
"There is no obvious alternate choice for those who don't want a KitchenAid, but there are options," says Cassidy Olsen, cooking editor for Reviewed. "Kenmore and Breville make high-performing options at a cheaper price. Design fiends also might find the Smeg stand mixer appealing, although user reviews are generally quite poor."
You do, of course, pay a premium for the KitchenAid brand. With price points ranging from about $250 for a basic 4.5-quart Classic Plus series, $270-$400 for a 5-quart Artisan series, and $350-$500 for a 6-quart Professional series, they're a considerable investment. Prices go even higher for larger sizes and special finishes.
In Reviewed's lab tests, the KitchenAid Artisan series topped the list, not because it's fundamentally different from other stand mixers, but simply because it does the basics better. The bowl and mixing attachments are paired perfectly so that nothing goes unmixed. The motor is sturdy and relatively quiet. It just works, and keeps working.
Buying a stand mixer other than a KitchenAid isn't a grave mistake, but the KitchenAid is the standard for a reason. And by all appearances, it will remain so well into the future.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.