The tool has its fair share of haters, but fans would say that it’s the greatest thing since electrically sliced bread.

By Nina Friend
November 24, 2020
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Welcome to the 1960s. In the air, the Jetsons are flying a car. On the ground, life feels just as high-tech, particularly in the kitchen, where nearly everything has become electric. Electric can openers! Electric skillets! These shiny new appliances are far more glamorous than their manual counterparts, so when Thanksgiving rolls around and families are tasked with the annual turkey carving, a regular knife just won’t do.

Electric Knife
Credit: FOTODEZIGN 10 / ALAMY

Enter Jerome L. Murray, a serial inventor known for necessities like the airplane boarding ramp and the peristaltic pump, a medical device that made open-heart surgery possible. In 1964, Murray patented an early version of the electric knife, with two serrated blades connected and powered by an electric motor. When turned on, one blade moved forward and the other moved backward. The person operating the knife would apply a bit of pressure, and the knife would do its thing. Companies like KitchenAid and Black & Decker began offering their own motorized cutlery, and Murray’s invention soon became a household staple.

Many appliances were marketed toward women, often advertised as “time-saving” devices, but the electric carving knife was made with men in mind. In 1964, General Electric introduced their electric knife with an ad that read, “Does a roast make him roar? Or is he deft with a blade? Carving is child’s play with General Electric’s new Electric Slicing Knife.” The next year, a Ronson ad said, “Romps through a roast. Zips through a Porterhouse. And it looks terrific on the table, too. Makes any man a Michelangelo at mealtime.” This targeted marketing worked; GE reached almost $1 billion in annual electric knife sales by 1966. Decades later, in 2020, the electric carving knife has garnered its fair share of haters, but proponents of the tool, who bring it out for the annual turkey carving, would likely say that it’s the greatest thing since electrically sliced bread.

The Nostalgia Factor

Although Angie Mar, executive chef and owner of The Beatrice Inn in New York City, usually opts for a Japanese blade in the kitchen, some of her most treasured memories involve an electric knife. “Prime rib was a regular thing for our Sunday suppers,” Mar says. “I have the fondest memories of my father standing in the kitchen with his electric carving knife, slicing the rib. I would always stand at his side, waiting for him to slice off a fat-laden piece for me.”

By the Numbers

75: Total number of domestic and foreign patents held by Jerome L. Murray, inventor of the electric knife

15: Murray’s age when he sold his first invention, a wind-mill that provided power for a radio manufacturer

Nearly $1 billion: Annual sales of electric knives by GE by 1966

1 in 3: American families that owned an electric knife by 1971

90: Average decibel level of a lawn mower

89: Decibel level of some electric knives

3 Great Electric Knives to Buy Now

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