A quick check on the internet confirms that it’s pretty unlikely anyone will be writing a multi-volume history of the electric knife sharpener anytime soon. There is an absolute dearth of information on the topic, but what is out there is very interesting.
The story really begins just after the Second World War, where else but in the United States, where housewives of the time were keen to automate all of their kitchen work, and enthusiastically bought from the range of new electrical appliances. Food mixers and blenders and refrigerators and cookers, in fact anything with an electric motor was ‘in’.
Today, after having sat in garages and storage facilities for decades (see our previous article – Useless Kitchen Gadgets), 1950s era kitchen appliances are in again, with that oh so cool retro look. A quick check on eBay and you’ll find a couple of reasonably priced examples of 1950’s era electric knife sharpeners (here: http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_sacat=See-All-Categories&_nkw=Vintage+electric+knife+sharpener+%22Handy+Hannah%22&_sop=3, and here: http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Vintage-Cory-Electric-Knife-Sharpener-DKS-Green-Works-/150966415319?_trksid=p2054897.l4275), with brands such as Cory and Handy Hannah, where you can you pick up 1950’s models in reasonably good (and working) condition for under US$20.
The Handy Hannah brand has a very interesting history. First mentioned in dispatches as a maufacturer of portable kitchen appliances back in the 1950s when it became part of the Landers group, which made the Universal bread maker, Handy Hannah also manufactured the ‘Handy Hannah Vitalator’. Even though the designers and manufacturers of this device had – in their minds – invented a scalp massager, the device was soon put to, let’s say, alternative uses, a little further down the body. For the curious, you can read more about this in this article: ‘Herstory In Our Pants: The 1950s-Era Handy Hannah Vitalator‘ (read at work at your own risk!)
Getting back to knife sharpeners (ahem!), the 1950s models don’t look a lot different to modern models, although clearly they are a lot bulkier and heavier. Nirey (the electric knife sharpener brand sold by Total Knife Care), originally founded in 1975 as a cutlery manufacturer, designed and launched their first electric knife sharpener, the SR-868A, in 1990.
Fast forward twenty four years and Nirey is a leading brand electric knife sharpener manufacturer, with a range of three models, for home, portable and professional use. If the retro models of the fifties are anything to go by, electric knife sharpeners will probably look pretty similar twenty four years from now!