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The Crock-Pot Went On Sale The Same Year NPR Debuted Original Programming

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

NPR is celebrating its 50th anniversary by looking back at the moments, news, movies and albums that shaped the year 1971. And because we can, today we remember a revolutionary kitchen appliance unveiled 50 years ago in Kansas City. All hail the Crock-Pot. Mackenzie Martin from member station KCUR and the podcast "Hungry For MO" has the story.

MACKENZIE MARTIN, BYLINE: Before the Crock-Pot was the Crock-Pot, it was called the Naxon Beanery, and its purpose was a little more specific. Patented by prolific inventor Irving Naxon, it was originally inspired by a Jewish stew that was slowly cooked on Fridays in preparation for the Sabbath. As a product for mass appeal, though, the Beanery never quite took off. The Crock-Pot as we know it today is really thanks to the Kansas City company Rival Manufacturing, who acquired the bean pot in 1970, almost as an afterthought.

ROXANNE WYSS: They really didn't give it much credence at that time.

MARTIN: Former Rival home economist Roxanne Wyss says the device was handed over to the company's test kitchen, where they recognized almost right away, this can cook way more than just beans.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDA PAYNE SONG "BAND OF GOLD")

WYSS: From that point on, I believe they gave those home economists in the test kitchen a lot more attention than they ever did before.

MARTIN: The newly renamed Crock-Pot made its official debut in 1971 at the National Housewares Show in Chicago. It was sold as a miraculous timesaving device.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Give yourself time, turn yourself loose - Rival Crock-Pot.

MARTIN: The pitch worked. Crock-Pot sales hit 2 million the first year it was introduced. Four years later, that number exploded to 93 million. Rival's home ec department took on the task of teaching people how to use the Crock-Pot, spending hours testing soups, stews and roasts for inclusion in the recipe book that came with each device.

KATHY MOORE: The food was probably Midwest in that you look at who was in those test kitchens. But at the same time, that was comforting, old-fashioned food. And beef stew transcends all of the United States.

MARTIN: Kathy Moore started at Rival's test kitchen in 1976, and she very clearly remembers the recipes from this era - the Busy Woman's Roast Chicken, Pork Chop Abracadabra. A big part of the slow cooker's success had to do with the fact that more women were working outside the home in the '70s, and Rival marketed the Crock-Pot directly to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Here's the Rival Crock-Pot with a stoneware liner that lifts off for easy serving and cleaning.

PAULA JOHNSON: These women embraced the Crock-Pot as a way of providing a nutritious and affordable meal.

MARTIN: Paula Johnson is the curator of food history at the National Museum of American History. She says when the Crock-Pot came out, it mostly benefited the middle-class white woman who could afford it, and it sometimes set women up for even more work rather than actually giving them a break. But Johnson has also spoken to teachers, nurses and factory workers who called the Crock-Pot a lifesaver.

JOHNSON: It was easy. It was foolproof. It made tough cuts of meat more tender with a long braise.

MARTIN: If you ask Kathy Moore why nearly 12 million slow cookers are still purchased every year, she'll tell you convenience plays a big part. But there's an emotional appeal, too.

MOORE: I don't think that any meal delivery or any of the frozen products can ever replace the aroma, the comfort, the emotion and the memories that come from a home-cooked meal.

MARTIN: For NPR news, I'm Mackenzie Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "GAMBREL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.