19th Century Kitchen Tools: Lecture by Harry Rosenblum

Egg beaters from Harry Rosenblum's collection.

Egg beaters from Harry Rosenblum's collection.

This past Thursday, BHS hosted a lecture by Brooklyn Kitchen owner Harry Rosenblum on 19th Century Kitchen Tools. Rosenblum is passionate collector of rare, antique, and even ridiculous kitchen tools. All of the tools in Rosenblum’s collection, whether corky or obsolete, provide an insight into the life of past Brooklynites. One of the oddest objects Rosenblum presented on was an antique meat juicer. In the 19th Century, it was believed that all of the meat’s nutrients were found in the animal’s blood. After a piece of meat was cooked, it was placed in inside a mechanism that resembled a printing press, with a screw transmitting pressure between two metal plates. The juice extracted from this operation was then given to people who suffered from tooth loss. Americans believed this was the best method to nourish those who could not chew. A single kitchen tool, in this case a meat juicer, can reveal not only erroneous beliefs on nutrition, but sheds light on the state of dental hygiene of 19th century America.

The Brooklyn Kitchen owner is not only fascinated by outdated kitchen appliances, but by the exponential growth in kitchen tools patents over the 19th and early 20th century. The egg beater is the object Rosenblum owns in the largest amount. Each egg beater is a different variation from the original patent. There are said to be over 2,400 patents for the egg beater, an object that performs the task a fork could easily replace. The large number of patents is not a reflection of incredible technological improvements in the field of making whites into whipped cream, but is evidence of the American obsession with copyright infringement lawsuits. Furthermore, patents were used not necessarily for the protection of intellectual property, but as a certificate of quality. Today, we see branding in the same way. A generic or “store” brand is often perceived a being of inferior quality than their branded equivalents. A kitchen tool not worthy of being patented was seen as not worthy of buying.

For the rest of the evening, Rosenblum guided the audience through the history of American manufacturing, and, life before and after the invention of electricity, through the use of objects commonly found in people’s kitchens. Each object has its own fascinating history and provided a connection to the Booklynites that came before us. Personally, I can say I have never felt so connected to a stranger than when holding his old meat juicer. Harry Rosenblum’s next lecture will take place on October 2, 2011. For a complete schedule of public programs, please visit our online calendar.

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