Sunbeam Mixmaster Mixers
Words: Adam Richardson and Dave Hoffer Pictures: Adam Richardson
Here we have two Mixmaster mixers from Sunbeam, one a stand mixer and the other handheld. Both belong to Dave Hoffer, who kindly lent them to be photographed. The stand-mixer belonged to his mother, and was her working mixer for home baking (we'll get to what this means for this product's soul in a bit). The handheld mixer Dave picked up somewhere along the line. Both show similar styling cues influenced by the streamlining aesthetic of the period.
Dave says about the stand mixer:
Click any image to enlarge.
Model 12 Stand Mixer
Date introduced: 1957 Design by: Unknown
This model of mixer was produced by Sunbeam between 1957 and 1967, and according to Deco Dan was the last of this line of mixers. In addition to the classy chrome seen here, it was available in white, yellow, pink and turquoise.
The front cap of the Model 12 is probably my favorite part: I imagine docking my spaceship into it as the cylinder slowly spins 2001-style around the brass hub emblazoned with an "S"... It has certainly seen its share of knocks and scrapes - this has been a well-used appliance. But the old adage of "they don't make 'em like they used to" is very applicable here: the casing is heavy cast metal, and while it's scratched it is still in solid shape, and the mixer still works just fine, some 60 years later.
The mixer has an unusual pivoting design to accommodate the larger or smaller bowl sizes. A lever on the back side of the base moves the cantilevered body of the mixer left and right so that it stays close to the side of whichever size bowl is used (presumably so the whipping action can generate friction against the side of the bowl rather than just spinning in the center).
The tail end of the main cylinder body is also aerospace-inspired, with fins protruding on either side. These do have some functional purpose - they make it easier to grip the black end-knob while rotating it to the various speed settings. It was known as the Mix-Finder Dial, and was a key design element of Sunbeams (see a patent drawing for it from 1942 here). The knob is Bakelite and has the lovely dense, weighty feel you get from that material. There are soft but distinct detents at each end of the knob's sweep, but none for the intermediate speeds. Apparently it maxed out at the same speed as the previous 11-speed Model 11, but Sunbeam just re-labeled it for 12 speeds. Shades of Spinal Tap...
Sunbeam Mixmaster HM-1 Handheld Mixer
Date introduced: 1957 Design by: Unknown
This is the baby cousin of the Model 12, the handheld HM-1, seen here in turquoise (it also appears to have been available in at least chrome and white). Compared to the almost industrial build of Model 12, the HM-1 is a much more budget affair. The upper body is made of shiny plastic, while the underbelly is gold-painted metal. It weighs more than a contemporary handmixer, which does give it a feeling of solidity, however the weight distribution is a bit awkward as the mixer wants to pitch forward, straining your wrist.
A range of accessories were available for the HM-1, which you can see at Sunbeam Mixmaster Love, including a mounting stand and various beating and whipping variations.
The switches on the HM-1 are of poor quality compared to the Model 12. Today we are spoiled by precision, intricate small-scale switches, but in the 1950's mechanical switches were not always so good. The slider speed control jerks from one position to the next, and the beater ejector button has floppy travel. Like the Model 12 the speed markings have terrible typography. However the Sunbeam logo and "Mixmaster" are nicely etched into the surface.
The two mixers have some clear family resemblances: the angled overhang at the front, the "tails" at the back, and the forms of the handles. The HM-1's tail together with the flat end of the handle make up a tripod for standing the mixer upright when the beaters are attached, useful if you need to pause mixing to add something to the bowl.
What gives them soul?
The soul of a product can come from several sources. At Mass Made Soul we primarily focus on the soul imbued in a mass-produced product by its creator - designer, engineer, etc. Another source is more personal (and therefore not "mass"), but at least as important to the individual: the memories and emotions that accrue to the object over time. We all own products like this - not necessarily beautiful or even that interesting in isolation, but having great sentimental importance.
In the case of these mixers, especially the Model 12 stand mixer, they embody the soul of their age: futuristic, optimistic, more technologically innocent, distinctly and definitively American. There is no pretense about them, no over-wrought user research or design strategy; they represent a time when design was both simpler but also less appreciated as a profession.
The mixers' owner, Dave, is himself a designer, and he says about them:
"Design doesn't happen in a vacuum. As designers we respond to our cultural context and our designs are shaped by our times and our technologies. In 1959, the context was the Jet Age as it gave way to the Space Age, and the extension of Streamline Moderne design from the 1930's revealed itself in a diverse set of products that were never going to fly and which didn't require wind resistance, yet looked as sleek as the jets and spacecraft they were modeled after. 1959 was a time of technological hope and economic growth that saw tail-fins on every car, and the Sunbeam Mixmaster looked like it was about to fly off the kitchen counter.
Additionally, after a product is sold and shipped, it becomes that person's property. My mother got the mixer as a gift in 1959 for her wedding. She’s thinks maybe my Aunt Gert gave it to her but she’s not sure. :) She started using it for baking cakes, cookies and brownies. Her cookies were from scratch, and she got very good at it. The mixer blended (forgive the pun) into her eclectic kitchen. It became part of her toolset, despite the fact that there were ten thousand others in kitchens across the country. I was born in 1969 and the mixer was a part of a set of cooking rituals as I grew up in the 70’s. She’d make cookies or brownies and I’d lick the detachable blades clean. I certainly never thought of her mixer as mass-made. That Sunbeam was hers. When she baked, those memories were ours, and the mixer was a part of that time.Another thing that begins to separate the mass from the personal is the patina that a product takes on after it gets used. Every nick, scratch or discoloration is part of what makes products our own. All the wear and tear that marks a product as our own imbues it with a soul beyond the designer's intention. Designers do consider how a product will wear over time, but the possibilities for how a product changes are numerous. A designer that produces a chair out of cherry wood can send that chair to Jakarta, Dubai or Austin, and the climates alone will have an effect on the wood - not to mention the air quality, spills, or, most importantly, modifications. One owner could stain it a dark color, another could strip the wood down to it’s original color, while a third could upholster it in a way the designer never envisioned.A product's soul is modified by its owner after purchase, regardless of what the designer intended.”