Electric Shaver Museum, Sunbeam exhibition

This is the no-frames/text-only version of the Sunbeam exhibition of the Electric Shaver Museum. To see the photographs in this exhibition, or to visit E|S|M's other exhibitions click here (unless forced, not available for mobile devices with a screenwidth less than 640 pixels).

Stewart & ClarkChicago Flexible Shaft Co.Sunbeam and JepsonMixmasterMore productsSunbeam Corp.End of the shaver businessSunbeam todaySunbeam in AustraliaSunbeam's first shaverModels R, M and SModel WOther 1950s modelsSunbeam in 60s and 70sLady SunbeamAustralian shaversBiography Ivar JepsonBiography John BrueckerBiography Robert D. BudlongSources/literature

John Stewart & Thomas Clark
The course of life for John K. Stewart (1870-1916) and Thomas J. Clark (1869-1907) is not completely known, but Wikipedia states that they first worked for a New Hampshire maker of horse clipping machinery (maybe J. K. Priest of Nashua), and then for Brown & Sharpe Mfg Co. of Providence, Rhode Island, the inventors of hairclippers for human hair (1879). Later Stewart and Clark moved on to Chicago. Most sources give 1893 as the start of their Chicago Flexible Shaft Company, but the company itself has always mentioned 1890 as the year of its establishment. John Stewart was also involved in the start of other companies, like the Stewart-Warner Speedometer Corporation. Both Stewart and Clark died rather young. Clark was killed in 1907 by a car accident in Ohio, when his car crashed during the Glidden Tour of that year. He was demonstrating the Stewart Speedometer at that time. Stewart died later in 1916 in New York, cause unknown.

Chicago Flexible Shaft Co.
In 1897 the company was incorporated as Chicago Flexible Shaft Co., Inc. Main products sold were hand crank shaft-driven clippers for use on animals, with the "Stewart" brand, like the "1902 Chicago Horse Clipping Machine". In a 1910 sales brochure also electric clippers and multi-user power sheep shearing machines were shown. To offset the seasonal nature of the sheep and horse shearing industry the company continued to diversify. In 1910 the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. introduced the Princess electric clothes iron, thus entering the market of household appliances. Although this market was new for the company, the iron was an outstanding success and laid the foundation for the company's small appliances industry. Already in 1903 the company had sent Leander H. LaChance, a relative of John K. Stewart, to London (UK) to set up its first overseas branche.

Sunbeam and Jepson
In 1921 the brand name Sunbeam was used for the first time in a USA-wide advertising campaign for the company's electrically powered products. In the early 1920s a new Sunbeam iron and a Sunbeam Toaster and Table Stove (1922) were introduced. In 1925 a young Swedish immigrant, Ivar Jepson, came to work at the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. In just a few years he became a very important designer in the research and development team of the company. From 1925 to 1930 Jepson and his design teams earned numerous patents for kitchen devices. Jepson's supreme achievement was the Mixmaster, patented in 1928 and 1929, and first mass marketed in 1930.

The Mixmaster was an enormous success, making Sunbeam literally a household name in the early 1930s, even though the Great Depression was then at its worst. Like many natural inventors, Jepson never stopped improving his basic designs. He improved the motor and controls of his mixer, and added a number of attachments, without altering the basic design, which was quite sleek for its time. By 1940, a full generation before the marketing of the modern food processor, Jepson's Mixmaster could chop, slice, shred, grate and crush, make juice, peel fruit, shell peas, press pasta, churn butter and grind coffee; it could also open tin cans, sharpen knives, polish silverware and motorize your ice cream freezer.

More products
In the 1930s fan heaters, heating pads, new flat toasters, glass coffee makers (1938) and, last but not least, electric shavers (1937) were added as new products. The success of the Sunbeam branded products was not only due to the quality, but also to the fact that Sunbeam used a simple productline, with only one or two products of a kind available at the same time - the shavers may have been an exception. Another factor in Sunbeam's success were the free cookbooks and housekeeping guides that Sunbeam provided with its products, like "How to launder clothes properly and how to cook 49 dishes at the table" (1926). Innumerable households were guided into "Never fail frostings", "1000 Island dressings" and "Delicious Sunbeam rolls" with this "How to get the most out of your Sunbeam Mixmaster cookbook" (1940).

Sunbeam Corporation
By 1946 the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. decided to change the name of its home appliances division to Sunbeam Corporation. A few years later new assembly plants were opened in Australia, Scotland (1954) and Mexico (1957). In 1960, Sunbeam acquired the John Oster Mfg. Co., because it felt that Oster products would augment its lines. Besides the home appliances there was still an industrial furnace division. Sunbeam expanded this business in 1958 by acquiring the assets of Westinghouse furnace division. After that a new furnace company was formed, Sunbeam Equipment Company, which moved to Meadville (PA, USA).

End of the shaver business
In the 1980s and 1990s Sunbeam came in a very turbulent time. In 1982 Alleghenny International Corp., a large conglomerate of industrial companies, purchased all of Sunbeam Corporation. The furnace activities moved out, went their own way and are now Seco/Warwick Corporation. The shaver business was also ended. Alleghenny International was forced into bankruptcy (1988), but the original Sunbeam-Oster part of it was bought by three investors (1990), and got the name Sunbeam-Oster Company. This company relocated to Florida and acquired part of DeVilbiss Healt Care (1992) and Rubbermaid's outdoor furniture business (1994), renamed to Sunbeam Corp. (1995), and acquired First Alert, Signature Brands and Coleman (1998).

Sunbeam today
In the meantime Al Dunlap, known for his Rambo style of management, became CEO (1996-1998). He shed the company's unprofitable operations, halved Sunbeam's workforce to 6,000 employees, and closed or sold two thirds of its factories and warehouses worldwide. After having been filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection (2001), Sunbeam emerged successfully from that protection with a new identity: American Household, Inc. (2002). Three years later American Household was acquired by Jarden Corporation (2005). Nowadays (2008) Sunbeam Products, Inc. is doing business as Jarden Consumer Solutions, a subsidiary of Jarden Corporation. Whatever has changed, the company still sells its Mixmaster, nowadays named Sunbeam® Heritage Series® Dual Motor Stand Mixer, and it indeed looks very much like Jepson's Mixmaster of the 1930s.

Sunbeam in Australia
Sunbeam was big in America, but in Australia Sunbeam is even larger and the trade name continues to be used today. The history of Sunbeam in Australia and New Zealand goes back to 1914 when the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. acquired the Australian branch of William Cooper and Nephews. This company had already been selling Stewart branded sheep shearing equipment made by the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. for some years. The name of the Australian operation was changed to Cooper Engineering Co. (CEC). In 1933 the Cooper Engineering Co. purchased its first manufacturing plant in Waterloo, Sydney, where the company established local production of sheep shearing equipment. During the second World War the company produced tools, jigs, gauges and other products for the allied forces. Once the war had ended, Cooper Engineering Co. returned to its traditional manufacturing, with an ever-increasing focus on small appliances. In 1952 the company changed its name to Sunbeam Corporation Ltd. and became a public company. In 1952 also the first Australian made electric shaver was launched (Model W 210-250 Volts version). During the next decades Sunbeam became the most important small appliance company of Australia. For example by 1973 the company had sold 3.5 million electric frypans, one for every three people in the country. Every Australian household probably owns one or more Sunbeam products. Today Sunbeam Australia markets in excess of 250 appliances, and is market leader in many product categories, like irons, kettles and toasters. Since 1996 Sunbeam is part of GUD Holdings of Australia.

Sunbeam's first shaver
In 1937, Ivar Jepson and his staff had already been working for some time on an electric shaver when John Bruecker, an inventor who had developed an electric shaver already in 1915, walked in with a shavermodel that helped the further development of Sunbeam's shaver. It is not clear how much Bruecker contributed to Sunbeam's shaver, but a fact is that Bruecker patented the basic principles of Sunbeam's shaving system in several patents, and also the design of the first model R.
Sunbeam's shaving system is a single cutter, oscillating within a single screened comb with at first about 300 holes and later 475 holes. The screened comb is not a foil: there are ribs inside to stiffen the screen. Sunbeam's shaving system was different from the then existing shaving systems. "The Sunbeam Shavemasters have the famous head embodying the exclusive, patented Sunbeam principle of dry-shaver operation. Unlike most other electric shavers the Shavemaster cutter does not shuttle back-and-forth in a lateral action behind a slotted comb. It speeds over-and-back in lightning-fast oscillations".

Models R, M and S
In November 1937 Shavemaster model R was introduced in the USA. It was one of the new shavers in the booming shaver market of that year. Schick (1931), Packard Lektro Shaver and Hanley Clipshave (both 1935) had been the first electric shaver brands, but in 1937 many other brands emerged. This meant a lot of competition, but Sunbeam's fame for quality and its typical shaving system made the Sunbeam shaver an instant success. Model R sold at $15, the same price as a Remington or a Schick at the time. There were cheaper shavers though, for example the Champion branded shaver of store chain Sears, which sold at $ 8.95. In 1939 Sunbeam brought a cheaper and simpler shaver to serve the market's low ends, Shavemaster model M (same shaving head as R, but AC only, priced $ 7.50). During WWII in the USA there were restrictions on the manufacturing of electric shavers, but right after the war, in 1946, Sunbeam brought a new model in a modern color, Shavemaster model S.

Model W
In 1949 Sunbeam introduced a completely redesigned shaver model, Shavemaster model W, with a new shape and a much larger shaving head. Model W was the first electric shaver with an ergonomic shape held in the palm of the hand, rather than the previous elongated shape of models R, M and S. The shaving head was about three times bigger than the ones used before (12.5 instead of 4 square centimetre) and had, according to Sunbeam, "3,000 shaving edges, more than any electric shaver". A single cutter was driven by a collector motor with an eight-pole rotor. Model W had a house of grey synthetic resin, but the material is unstable, so that the shavers you may find on the second hand market nowadays are deformed, eroded and have an acidulous smell. The marketing of Model W went with an intensive advertising campaign (see advertisements below) and James Stewart used a Model W in the opening sequence of Hitchcock's famous film Rear Window. Already in 1954, five years after the introduction of the shaver, Sunbeam announced four million men were using a Model W.

Other 1950s models
During the 1950s, Sunbeam developed several versions of the single head, single blade shaver, like Model XC, Model G, Model 140, Model X500M and in 1959 the last single head, single blade Model XSM. A letter X in the modelnumber means the shaver is made in Scotland, where Sunbeam had a factory since 1954, and a letter M means "Multivolt", shavers made for Europe with a voltage switch. In 1959, according to a consumer report of that year, Sunbeam's shavers performed poorly compared to other brands. First Sunbeam decided to experiment with another shaving system in the Rollmaster (Model XRM in Europe, Model 333 in the USA, 1959). The Rollmaster had a triple twin slotted head system, like the Remington shavers of that time. In the 1960s improvements in Sunbeam's own shaving system were made.

Sunbeam in the 60s and 70s
The first improvements were inside the shaving head, which now had three blades instead of one. There was also a rudimentary trimmer on the head of the shaver: Shavemaster 555 (modelno. 555, 1960). A few years later the number of blades on the shaft was increased to five and a real trimmer was mounted: Shavemaster 555 (modelno. 555-II, 1963). In 1965 came Shavemaster 777, which had a double shaving system (two shafts, three blades each) and a wider trimmer. In Europe, at the end of the 1960s, Sunbeam experimented again with a different shaving technique. Models G8, G9 International and GT10 International had a double foil system and were manufactured in Europe by Payer (Austria), an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) not only for Sunbeam, but also for Remington. In the USA Sunbeam launched a new shaver line with model SM-F Fastback (1968). From that time on Sunbeam's shavers became larger and larger, like for example model SM-11M Shavemaster. One of the last models was the European style Shavemaster SRX (SM12M).

Lady Sunbeam
Sunbeam has also been an important manufacturer of shavers for ladies. It began in 1955 with model LS1, which came in six different colors and was called Lady Sunbeam. In 1957 two improved models (LS2 and LS3) were introduced, with impressive colours like Emerald Green, Petal Pink, Imperial Yellow, Riviera Blue, Ermine White and Velvet Black. The shaving system was a rather simple double trimmer. Later Sunbeam used slotted head systems, for example in Lady Sunbeam Elegance (model LSM, 1960) or combinations of systems, like Lady Sunbeam Rascal (model 76-12E, 1977). Many Lady Sunbeam shavers have a built-in light.

Australian shavers
In 1952 the first Australian made electric shaver was launched (Model W 210-250 Volts version). From that time many models have been produced in Australia with a special voltage. The shavers are recognizable by their modelnumbers with an "A". Like in the USA in the 1980s Sunbeam's shaver manufacturing business was discontinued in Australia, but the Australian Sunbeam company started marketing shavers made by other manufacturers, like Payer in Austria, for example the rechargeable model Sunbeam Electronic (modelno. SM-Y). In 2003 Sunbeam Australia launched a new electric shaver line. These shavers were made by Payer and by Izumi, a company of Japanese origin now manufacturing shavers in China. Today (2009) Sunbeam's men's shaver line has disappeared again from Australian Sunbeam's website. For women Sunbeam is still distributor in Australia and New Zealand of Emjoi epilators, made in China.

Biography Ivar Jepson
Ivar Jepson was born November 2, 1903 and grew up on the family farm in Kristianstad in southern Sweden. Jepson went to nearby Hässleholm Technical Highschool to study engineering and did a year's graduate work at the University of Berlin Charlottenburg. After that he decided to leave for America. By November 1925, he was employed as a draftsman with the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. From 1927 he worked for research and development in the company. His first success was the Sunbeam Mixmaster of 1930, later followed by can openers, toasters, fans, clocks, electric frypans, and so on. From 1932 Jepson was chief engineer and from 1956 until his retirement in 1963 he was vice president of Research and Development in the company.
In 1937, Jepson and his staff had already been working for some time to develop an electric shaver when John Bruecker walked in with a shavermodel that solved many problems. Unhappy with developments in the company, where the emphasis shifted from product quality to bottom-line issues of corporate management, finance and control, Jepson retired in 1963. Heskett (see literature below) writes that "Jepson was typical of a whole generation of corporate designers whose work has generally been overlooked in favor of their more glamorous, often more publicity-conscious counterparts in design consultancies. Yet Jepson contributed as much as Loewy, Dreyfuss or Teague toward shaping his age, putting his stamp anonymously on myriad objects that create identity and meaning in our domestic landscape". In 1965 Jepson died of a heart attack.

Biography John Bruecker
Johann Brücker was born September 3, 1881 in Neu-Pasua, at that time a village in the dual-monarchy of Austria-Hungary, now called Nova Pazova, a settlement in Serbia located 25 km north-west of Belgrade. The village had a German community, so-called Danube Swabians or Danube Germans, of which the Brücker family was part. When he was 12 years old, Johann was apprenticed to a local mechanic and locksmith, where he completed the four year apprenticeship required at the time. From 1895 to 1901 he worked as a journeyman toolmaker and mechanic. After his military service, in 1907, he emigrated to the United States, like many other Germans who lived in southeastern Europe.
John Bruecker, as he called himself after he became an American citizen, worked in Sharon, Lansing, Detroit and Fort Wayne, before he moved to Chicago and set himself up as an independent patent consultant in 1924. He spent his free time improving his invention for an electric shaver. He had already patented a rotary razor in 1915 (US patent 1159647). His big break came in 1937 when he was able to present his shaver to the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. Within a very short time both parties agreed that this was the shaver the company was looking for. Bruecker worked six months with Jepson and his engineering staff of the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. to redesign the shaver for mass-production and to build a production line. November 10, 1937 it was introduced.
From 1951 to 1961 Bruecker lived in Glendale, California, where he became a very respected citizen. In the 1950s Bruecker decided to sponsor the construction of homes in Schönaich, Germany, for refugees from his hometown Neu-Pasua, where all Germans were thrown out after 1945. In 1962 he took up residence in one of his project homes with the intention of staying in Schönaich. He died in a Stuttgart hospital on June 3, 1965.

Biography Robert D. Budlong
Robert Davol Budlong (1902-1955) was born in Denver (CO, USA) and studied art at Cummings School of Art in Des Moines (IA, USA) and the Chicago Academy of Fine Art (IL, USA). He opened an advertising office and started his career in industrial design in 1933 with the Hammond Clock Company. In 1935 he was commissioned by Zenith Radio Corp.'s founder Eugene F. McDonald to design most of the Zenith radio's until his death in 1955. For Sunbeam he designed the transverse, two-slot, "radiant control" T-20 Toaster (1950). With Ivar Jepson he worked on the compact Shavemaster Model W (1949), considered to be the first electric shaver with an ergonomic shape held in the palm of the hand, rather than the previous elongated shape held like a hammer. After his death in 1955 his design business was taken over by his associate Ken Schory Sr.

• Mel Byars, The design encyclopedia, MoMA, New York (NY, USA) / Laurence King Publishing Ltd., London (UK) / THOTH Publishers, Bussum (NL) 2004
• The melting pot, House organ of the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co., Chicago (IL, USA) 1920-1924
• Stewart metal minutes, House organ of the Stewart Industrial Furnace Division of the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co., Chicago (IL, USA) 19??-1946
• Sunbeam Stewart metal minutes, House organ of the Stewart Industrial Furnace Division of the Sunbeam Corporation, Chicago (IL, USA) 1946-1982?. Metal minutes still exists, and is now published by Seco/Warwick Corp.
• Albert J. Dunlap and Bob Andelman, Mean business, Fireside Edition, New York (NY, USA) 1997. This second edition has an extra chapter on Sunbeam
• Anon., 1,500,000 Dry Shavers, in: Fortune (USA), May 1938
• William F. George, Antique electric waffle irons 1900-1960, Trafford Publishing, Victoria (BC, CA) 2003
• Karl Götz, John Bruecker, the man, the inventor, the philanthropist, John Bruecker Foundation, Schönaich (DE) 1957
• John Heskett, Mr. Sunbeam, in: I.D. Magazine (p. 54-61), Magazine Publications, New York (NY, USA) May June 1994
• Phillip L. Krumholz, A history of shaving and razors (p. 261-262), Ad Libs Publishing Co., Bartonville (IL, USA) 1987
• Earl Lifshey, The housewares story (p. 353), National Housewares Manufacturers Association, Chicago (IL, USA) 1973
• Katherine Miller and Helen Ruggles, How to launder clothes properly and how to cook 49 dishes at the table, Chicago Flexible Shaft Company, Chicago (IL, USA) 1926

Electric Shaver Museum
Please note that this is the no-frames/text-only version of E|S|M's Sunbeam exhibition. To see the photographs in this exhibition, or to see E|S|M's other exhibitions click here (unless forced, not available for mobile devices with a screenwidth less than 640 pixels).
Texts, photographs and illustrations © 1999-2011 Peter de Weijer (E|S|M), unless indicated otherwise. Noncommercial use of the information on this site is permitted provided the source is stated expressly.

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