Most everybody remembers the jumbled drawers of their household kitchen, brimming with innumerable tangled spoons, ladles, spatulas, whisks and measuring cups. By far one of the more interesting and specialized devices typically kept under the counter is the rotary egg beater, its interlocking cogs, blades, and rotating parts possessed with all the charm of a chromiated K'Nex set.
One Minot resident had been so taken by the device that he began collecting them, accumulating more than a gross of them over the course of three decades. The late Joseph Bower, formerly of Willow City, had 156 by the time of his untimely death, when he succumbed to injuries suffered in a car accident in the summer of 2005. His wife, Verna, rediscovered a crate filled with them in her basement last summer.
The rotary egg beater as we know it was first patented in 1856 by Ralph Collier, of Baltimore, Md. Similar patents soon followed, until three years later the Dover Stamping Co. acquired the rights to produce a device that would quickly become ubiquitous to the American kitchen. The Bower collection has quite a few older devices though none quite as old as the original Dover model with the oldest they've so far dated made in 1928. Verna still has 78 of her husband's pieces, lain across three tables for her interview with The Minot Daily News. As often happens to collections, the rest of the egg beaters have been divided among the Bower's five children as mementos of their father.
Shown are 78 of the 156 rotary egg beaters that originally composed Joseph Bower’s collection, set out for display by his wife, Verna. The antique articles span nearly a century, and took roughly 30 years to collect.
Verna was born and raised in Willow City, spending her professional life as a nurse in Pasadena, Calif., and as the night supervisor at Trinity Hospital in Minot, until her retirement in 1997. She met Joseph after his service in the Navy during the Korean War, assigned to the USS Bennington before being honorably discharged in 1954. The couple were married in the Los Angeles suburb of Tujunga in 1957, eventually raising five children there. In 1979 the Bowers returned "to God's country," as Verna pleasantly called their home state. "I remember people thought we were crazy, coming back," she laughed, noting that all their friends and family were still here.
The collection began soon after their return, when Joseph started accumulating egg beaters here and there. "How or why, I don't know," his wife admits. "He used to stop by garage sales once in a while and add to it." Once friends and family were cued in to his hobby, he began receiving them as gifts. Occasionally, models would even be found sitting outside the front door. But they were never put on display, simply kept around in the basement for his interest.
Described by his wife as "a patient man," Joseph also enjoyed building puzzles in his spare time, when not working with Minot's Community Action Opportunities as a program specialist. His family described him as having the patience of Job, an excellent sense of humor, and a published poet. His was a mind that enjoyed complexity, whether that was of a mechanical or verbal nature. That he was fascinated with a device whose innate complexity is so often overlooked stands as a testament to Joseph's curiosity and imagination.
The future of the egg beaters that remain is uncertain. "I really don't know what to do with them. But they can't really hang out here," Verna jokes, her dining room overrun by the display she had set up. Whichever way they wend, they will continue to be rather interesting little devices.