How many times do you hear “This appliance is the top of the line” when you go shopping? Features that you never knew existed are suddenly important enough to change your life. As technological advancements continue, new features foster obsolescence. Vintage devices, like the Model C mixer by Hamilton Beach, show how additional conveniences contribute to progressive obsolescence.

The Hamilton Beach Model C mixer was an impressive model when it came out in 1934. It came with several attachments, such as a juicer and a

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Mixer, Electric, 1934, Metal, Plastic, Rubber,  H:13.25 x W: 13.25 X D 5in, Cooperstown New York, Gift of Esther Bresee, Farmer Museum, F0009.2008a-j. Photograph by Matthew Wagner.

 

strainer. It was definitely easier than the previous options — mixing by hand or eggbeaters. Hamilton Beach was previously known for making milkshake mixers but moved over to home supplies.[1] By adding a juicer and making the mixer detachable, the Model C added versatility to the mixer and more power; doing more work with fewer tools in the kitchen. However, once the newer models like the Model E came out, the convenience of Model C declined.

 

The Hamilton Beach Model E added more speed settings. People could also

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Mixer, Electric, 1934, Metal, Plastic, Rubber,  H:13.25 x W: 13.25 X D 5in, Cooperstown New York, Gift of Esther Bresee, Farmer Museum, F0009.2008a-j. Photograph by Matthew Wagner.

change the speed at will. The Model C’s speed limit was 3. The Model E went up to 15 speed and people could adjust the speed with greater precision.  Due to this change, new attachments, such as a meat grinder, could be used. The instruction booklet for the Model E recommended using speed 15 while using the meat grinder attachment. [2] That was not possible with the Model C. It is important to note is how when the Model C came out, it was top of the line. Then as newer models came out with new features, the Model C became obsolete. This was something called progressive obsolescence.

 

Progressive obsolescence is a concept identified in Christine Frederick’s book Selling Mrs. Consumer, a domestic help book. Christine Frederick was known as an expert in making the kitchen more scientific. She believed in utilizing technology to modernize simple kitchen tasks to reduce the number of steps required. [3] Frederick believed that a housewife would be happiest when she used appliances at the same…rate…that science…make possible. [4] Throughout her book, Frederick advocated for “creating” new conveniences in every model to improve household efficiency. Some people would want the latest thing and the best accessories, even in kitchen appliances. The Model C had a chance when it came out.

Since Selling Mrs. Consumer identified the cycle of obsolescence, we have seen many updates of kitchen appliances. For example, Hamilton Beach has mixer models going up to K and is still being sold today. Each one is an improvement over its predecessor, with new features and design. It is up to the consumer to decide if it is worth replacing their previous model.  Obviously Christine Frederick was onto something with progressive obsolescence – just google it on your cell phone.  And, if your cell phone is older than six months, it’s probably also subject to the fate of progressive obsolescence!

 

By Matt Wagner

[1] Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Encyclopedia of Kitchen History (New York: Taylor and Francis Inc, 2004) 657.

[2] Tested Recipes and Instructions for the Hamilton Beach Model “E” Food Mixer and Attachments,  Instruction Pamphlet (Hamilton Beach: Racine, WI), From I ❤ Aldi: Hamilton Beach, Blog, http://iheartaldi.blogspot.com/2010/07/hamilton-beach-model-e-food-mixer.html (Accessed on 12/2/14) 15.

[3] Jane Williams Rutherford, Selling Mrs. Consumer Christine Frederick & the Rise of Household Efficiency (Athens, Georgia: the University of Georgia Press, 2003) 65.

 

[4] Rutherford 150-151.

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