Hobart Company History

Hobart Company History

Few companies enjoy the honor of having their name used to refer generically to an entire category of equipment, but Hobart does and has for years. Chefs who demand the best equipment in their kitchens have been heard saying "I need a Hobart" when specifying everything from a high-quality dishwasher to a high-capacity mixer.

The company has been inventing and improving practical, reliable solutions for commercial kitchens and retail stores for more than a century. Their portfolio now includes a diverse offering, from slicers to dishwashers, and the story of how they got there begins with a multitalented and enterprising man from Ohio.

Table of Contents

A Hobart Postcard From 1902

The Innovative & Enterprising C.C. Hobart

Clarence Charles "C.C." Hobart was born in 1855. He spent his career mastering several trades including homebuilding, law, and bookkeeping for a paper mill. Fascinated by the work of Thomas Edison, C.C. developed an interest in the budding electricity industry and the technology that was developing to take advantage of it. Combining that interest with his administrative expertise he gained at the paper mill, he became the superintendent of the first electric lights plant in Middletown, Ohio, in 1883.

In the following years, C.C. made a living equipping paper mills in the area with steam-driven, electricity-generating dynamos, and leased electric lights and equipment to those plants. He opened his own dynamo shop in Middletown in 1890, enjoying moderate success for a couple of years until in 1894, just as the company was beginning to recover from an economic recession, a fire destroyed the underinsured factory. C.C. may never have recovered from the catastrophe had his neighbors in the nearby town of Troy, Ohio, not encouraged him to move and set up shop in a newly-erected building there.

From the Ashes, a Legend is Born

C.C. moved to Troy in 1895 for a fresh start. There, he met another budding entrepreneur, Herbert L. Johnston. The two men shared an interest in electric equipment, which inspired them to found the Hobart Electric Manufacturing Company on July 20, 1897. Their first products were direct current dynamos and motors for power plants, like the equipment C.C. produced for years in Middletown. With the growing popularity of alternating current electricity, the market for their direct current products began to shrink. The pair decided they had better find another application for their motors to ensure their company could endure changing times.

The solution to their dilemma laid the foundation for the company that we know today. The pair began soliciting coffee merchants and equipping their manually-operated mills with electric motors. The company adapted what they'd learned in the field and began producing the world's first electric coffee grinder in their factory, an innovation that would trigger a foodservice revolution.

It wasn't long after he found the market that would propel his company to success that Hobart's namesake and founder decided to sell his stock and exit the company. Herbert decided to stay and a trio of investors entered the picture with big plans for growth, buying C.C.'s share of the company. With the new leadership came an influx of cash, and the company's capital stock was increased to $100,000 by 1904. This gave the company the resources it needed to begin developing innovative approaches to address more needs of the local foodservice market.

The men turned their sights to retail stores, a growing market that was beginning to offer a growing supply of convenient food staples to families across the country. Among the products they developed for that market were peanut butter grinders and meat choppers. In 1909, the groundbreaking Model 232 Chopper was introduced into the retail market to help merchants grind meat in higher volumes than they could ever achieve before.

A National Presence & an International Reach

A snippet from an advertisement for an early Hobart peanut butter grinder

That food processing equipment began popping up in retail stores across the country, giving clerks a quick and easy way to grind fresh products to serve a growing middle class. To further this popularity, the company held its first sales convention in 1910 in Troy, where the company is still headquartered today. That same year also saw the creation of their first international sales agency in London, England.

The company took a bound forward in 1913 when it reorganized under the name The Hobart Manufacturing Company and capital increased to $1,600,000 dollars. Sales that year exceeded $1 million dollars for the first time and the company began doing business in Australia, South America, and South Africa.

The year 1915 brought a breakthrough seven years in the making, one that Herbert had been working to develop since he observed an exhausted baker laboring to mix a batch of bread dough with a metal spoon. His solution was the A-80 mixer, the first entry in a series of equipment that the company is famous for today.

The booming popularity and utility of the A-80 mixer led to the model being installed on the U.S. Navy ships California, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Not long after, Hobart pieces began being specified as standard equipment on all of the Navy's ships. The First World War put Hobart's machines to work making food for the troops, while some of the company's facilities were converted to manufacture weapons and parts for airplanes.

Between The Wars: Expansion & Birth of the KitchenAid Mixer

In 1919, after years of development, Hobart had finalized a residential version of its planetary mixer. Trial models were sent home with Hobart employees for testing, and one man's wife proclaimed that it was "…the best kitchen aid" she'd ever had. Her compliment led to the coining of the brand name KitchenAid, which is still used today, although that mixer is no longer sold by Hobart.

The first KitchenAid mixer, the H-5 was a beast of a machine that weighed in at 65 pounds. It was sold door-to-door by a salesforce, mostly comprised of women, who gave in-home demonstrations of all the ways the mixer could make life in the kitchen a little easier. The model G was introduced shortly thereafter as a less expensive, more compact alternative that weighed half as much.

A few years later, when the country was undergoing a recession, the company needed a strategy to make the KitchenAid mixer more accessible for cash-strapped Americans who couldn't afford one. At the time, they were retailing for the equivalent of several thousand dollars in today's money. They turned to Egmont Arens, an industrial designer and former Greenwich Village bookstore owner whose sleek, iconic redesign of the mixer remains virtually unchanged to this day. Egmont also redesigned one of Hobart's meat slicers, which is part of a collection at the Museum of Modern Art as an icon of art deco influence on industrial design.

In 1926, Hobart made the first in a series of important buyouts when it purchased the Crescent Washing Machine Company, one with roots in the 1880's when Josephine Cochrane, an enterprising homemaker, developed a hand-powered dishwashing machine for the home, followed by an electric version for commercial kitchens.

Cochrane's original machine was demonstrated at The Columbian Exposition and the World's Fair, winning several awards for engineering and innovation. By 1913, the year of Cochrane's death, her invention was sold widely to restaurants and hotels, although it would be a few decades before most American homes were outfitted with the proper plumbing to support a sizeable home market. Many of Cochrane's employees stayed with the company as it passed into the hands of the Bromley-Merseles Company and then joined Hobart to lend their talents to their new employer's success.

In 1934, the company made an entry into another segment they're still strong in with the purchase of the Dayton Scale from IBM, who had just purchased the company a year earlier. That company was established in 1891 and was responsible for many innovations in the computing scales industry that served butchers and retail stores. The scales would automatically translate the weight of a product into a price in dollars and cents, making it incredibly easy for butchers and sales clerks to serve customers quickly and accurately. The popular Model 97 "Low Boy" scale was introduced in 1935.

The Second World War & the Post-War Boom

In 1940, the S.S. America, a flagship of the United States sponsored by Eleanor Roosevelt, was equipped with 21 pieces of Hobart equipment in the galley. That ship was handed over to the navy in 1941 and later served in World War II. Hobart lent its efforts to the Allies directly when it converted many of its facilities to manufacture telescopic gunsights, fire control generators, and hydraulic equipment for bomber turrets and anti-aircraft weapons. For their work, the company received five Army-Navy E awards for Excellence in Production.

After the war, Hobart enjoyed the benefits of a booming retail market fueled by a prospering middle class. In 1946, the company unveiled the Model 5013 meat saw, made with an "easy clean" design, a step prompted by the growing focus on sanitation in foodservice and an innovation that came just two years after the inception of the National Sanitation Foundation, which is known today as NSF International. That same year, the company introduced the 600 Series "Moneyline" Scales with a revolutionary display that was readable from any angle.

In 1948, the company acquired the Federal Engineering company along with the "Steakmaster" meat tenderizer equipment and the Frandor Engineering Company in Barnstaple, England. They continued to expand with a new plant in Toronto. In 1950, the company expanded its successful warewashing line with the FT Series Automatic Conveyor Dishwasher.

A snippet of a 1960's magazine ad for Hobart equipment.

Equipping the Growing Retail Store Industry

Throughout the middle of the century, the company continued to create products to improve the way retail stores served their customers. In 1953, they introduced the H-600 Mixer and the model 4052 chopper, both capable of processing higher volumes of products than their predecessors. Another breakthrough came in 1956 with the introduction of the Model 2000 prepack system, which automatically weighed and labelled products. That system had been in development for more than fifty years.

The next big expansion came in 1964 with the purchase of the Corley-Miller Company, adding wrapping systems to their list of available products. Those remain an important part of the business. The first of their type, the Hands-Free 1612 and 1712 Automatic Slicer freed up labor in stores, helping workers to be more efficient.

In 1959, a 20-qt. Hobart mixer was used to prepare a cake onboard the U.S.S. Nautilus, the world's first operational nuclear submarine, to celebrate its becoming the first vessel to complete a submerged trip to the North Pole. In 1960, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon's wedding cake is made by the "greatest wedding cake artist in the world", Ronald Adams, with the help of Hobart mixers. Following all those success, Hobart got its first listing on the New York Stock Exchange in 1964.

Hobart introduced the 4356 Mixer Grinder in 1965, starting a line of products that the company is still strong in. In 1968, the company celebrated 70 years of success with the dedication of its Troy location as their world headquarters. At the time, the company had 20 major commercial product lines, 32 manufacturing operations, and did business with customers in more than 100 countries.

Rapidly Evolving Technology

A KitchenAid mixer ad from the late 1970's or early 1980's

The next few decades continued Hobart's legacy of innovation and incorporation of cutting-edge technologies. In 1970, they made their entry into the electronic age by adding digital displays to their scales. The company took another step into a brave new frontier when it acquired the Thermo-Kinetics company of New Liberia, La., which made microwave ovens. Their 1972 acquisition of Wascon Systems out of Hatboro, Pa., brought waste disposal equipment into their profile, products they're still associated with to this day.

In 1973, Hobart began to experiment with a bar code technology that would eventually become the UPC system. In 1983, the company took another leap into the future with the introduction of the Model 5000 Weighing and Labeling System, the first scale that could interface with store computer systems. It was also in that year that the Film Mizer Electric Stretch Wrapper was introduced, which connected to the company's weighing and labeling system to create a comprehensive in-store packaging system.

In 1981, Hobart became a wholly owned subsidiary of Dart & Kraft, Inc. Five years later, that company split in two and Hobart became part of the child company Premark. The Dart & Kraft years saw two important innovations: the introduction of Q-series refrigeration and the expansion of the company's warewashing solutions with the AM-14 and FT-800 models. Also that year, the company acquired Vulcan Hart, expanding its portfolio to include entirely new types of equipment including fryers and griddles.

The Company Expands & Enters the 21st Century

In 1991, baker Andre Soucy of Fort Smith, Ark., gained recognition in the company's "Oldest Running Mixer" contest with a C-210 model built in 1919. The company expanded dramatically through the 1990s. Traulsen was acquired in 1998, bringing in a line of premium commercial refrigerators. That same year saw the release of one of the company's most successful products of all time, the 2000 Series slicer, which sold tens of thousands of units over the following decade. In 1999, the company readied itself for another growth spurt when it was acquired by Illinois Tool Works, a multibillion-dollar company headquartered in Glenview, Ill.

Hobart has continued to improve the now century-old dishwasher with the introduction of OptiRinse in 2004, a technology that cuts water use in half, reducing both the water and electricity requirements of their conveyor and flight-type machines. A technology with similar benefits, the Advansys system, was introduced in 2010 to capture heat from evaporated water that would otherwise be vented and lost. Now that energy is used to heat incoming water, cutting energy need. One of their Advansys machines won a National Restaurant Association Kitchen Innovations award in 2013.

The company became a member of the U.S. Green Building Council in 2006, reflecting their commitment to environmentally-responsible design. That commitment has also won parent company ITW the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Sustained Excellence award for six years in a row. Meanwhile, their focus on innovation and quality manufacturing has earned them multiple accolades in Foodservice Equipment and Supplies' "Best in Class" awards every year for more than a decade, including both Best Diswashers and Best Electric slicers for the past five years in a row.