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The (Often Sexist) Evolution Of Kitchen Technology

A modern kitchen.
A modern kitchen.
Food technology is often the subject of sci-fi fantasies, from The Jetson’s push-and-eat oven, to Star Trek’s food replicators. But in reality, just how far has technology in the kitchen evolved?

If a kitchen is defined as a place to prepare food, then the first example was a cave with a fire. Since then, the technology used to cook food at home has gone through a multitude of changes. Here’s how some of your trusty kitchen tools have changed over time, and how another represents an exciting future development. Thankfully, the sometimes sexist attitudes around kitchen technology have progressed along with the tech itself.

Oven

The Ancient Greeks used very basic ovens to bake bread, and by the middle ages we had advanced to metal cauldrons hung above a fire, sometimes with chimneys and brick and mortar hearths. But the first written record of a brick and tile oven being built came from Alsace in France, in 1490.

There was very little major change in ovens until the 18th and 19th century, when iron cast ovens and stoves became popular and the gas oven was patented by British inventor James Sharp in 1826. Electric ovens were available in the 1890s but only became a popular alternative to the gas stove in the 1920s and 1930s.

In the 1950s, new features began to appear on ovens, such as the deep frying capabilities of the Hotpoint oven shown in the commercial below.

In 1963 GE unveiled the first self-cleaning oven, the P-7. More than 100 patents were granted for the oven, but a number of similar ovens have been released since. Around this time there were some extremely sexist ads to sell them.

Now ovens are connected to the internet, and some of the newer models can be pre-heated in advance with a smartphone. Modern day ovens are also capable of setting temperature and cooking times automatically after the user selects a recipe from an app.

Microwave Oven

Microwave ovens were patented in 1945, after an employee of the military defense company Raytheon noticed that an active radar had melted a candy bar in his pocket. He then tried cooking popcorn and eggs with microwaves, and the oven was born. The first model was the Raytheon Radarange, and was six feet tall. The first microwave oven for the domestic kitchen was introduced in 1955, and cost $1,295.

Through the 1960s the price of a home microwave oven fell rapidly, and by 1967 the latest model of the Radarange cost $495. These days, microwave ovens cost as little as $50, and by 1997, over 90 percent of households in the U.S. owned one.

Microwave ovens are now even available in sizes small enough to fit onto a work desktop.

Refrigerator

Refrigerators have been around for quite some time, and as far back as 500 B.C. Egyptians and Indians were using ice to keep their food fresher for longer. At the beginning of the 19th century, people in England were using ice boxes: basically wooden cupboards filled with ice in which you could store food.

Two of the first home refrigerators were invented in Fort Wayne, Indiana. General Electric company unveiled a unit invented by a French monk in 1911, and Fred W. Wolf invented refrigerators for home and domestic use that consisted of a unit on top of an ice box. Some of the first refrigerators with motors included the Kelvinator, pictured below, and Frigidaire, both available in the 1920s. The first hermetically-sealed domestic refrigerator was introduced in 1925.

A Kelvinator ad from 1920.

Refrigerators were widely used by consumers from the 1940s, and a two-door fridge-freezer combo was made available in 1947 by GE. In the 1970s and 1980s, refrigerator-producers focused on making more energy-efficient units, as the world became more environment-aware.

Modern refrigerators are going the same way as the oven, connecting to the internet. Some models are able to take photos of the inside of the fridge every time the door is shut, so users can use their smartphones to check if they are running low on groceries.

The Food Processor

The first food processor was exhibited in 1971 in Paris. Invented by Pierre Verdon, Le Magi-Mix was a compact version of the Robot-Coupe, an appliance scaled for a restaurant, of his own making. Food processors were the must-have kitchen gadget of the 1970s, and were much loved for their versatility. Again, unfortunately, the marketing teams of the age brought out some particular sexist ads to try and sell them, including the famous one below from Kenmore. Food processors no longer enjoy the popularity of the 1970s, but are still enthused by foodies.

The Printer

You don’t have a printer in your kitchen? That might be about to change. Companies like Natural Machines are building devices that let you print food. The Foodini might not be able to cook, but it can cut down on that excruciating preparation time. The printer uses the same technology as 3D printers. Check out how it works in the video below. And not a sexist slur in sight.