Inside the Collection

Steamfest 2013 Mystery Object Revealed

Photograph of Hand-powered food chopper
Powerhouse Museum Collection, object H6854.

Would you have guessed the mystery object on display in the Museum’s marquee at Steamfest this year? Visitors to this event held in Maitland over the weekend of 13-14 April were encouraged to have a go. Congratulations to Ray Wilson of Largs, NSW, whose answer was the first correct entry drawn.

The object is a Starrett food chopper, the Rolls Royce of nineteenth century hand-powered choppers. Invented by Laroy Starrett in the USA in 1865 and made by the Athol Machine Company in Athol, Massachusetts between 1868 until 1905, it is an impressive device. When the user turns its handle, the beam rocks like that of an early steam engine and a large blade attached to the end of the beam moves up and down. At the same time, a gear located under the cylindrical tub turns it around, ensuring that all the food is presented to the chopping blade and dealt with rapidly and effectively.

Although I’m not very interested in kitchenalia, this chopper caught my attention in our basement store because it reminded me of our model beam engines. So when I selected it for Steamfest, I placed a centre-pillar beam engine model in the showcase alongside it, to get visitors thinking about the similarities and differences between the mechanisms.

The weather was fine for Steamfest, and thousands of people enjoyed the event. This year it included the hugely successful inaugural penny farthing race, organised by the Powerhouse Museum’s own penny farthing enthusiast, Jonathan Fowler. The annual Great Train Race was also very popular, as were the train rides and displays.

Over 8000 people visited our marquee. They saw a selection of museum objects, watched videos and educational steam shows, listened to talks by museum staff, inspected Jonathan’s penny farthing – and entered the mystery object competition. Now that the object’s identity has been revealed, you can see a similar device in action here.

Written by curator Debbie Rudder.

2 responses to “Steamfest 2013 Mystery Object Revealed

  • Nice report, Debbie. But how can you not be fascinated by kitchenalia? There’s so much beauty in a spoon, a fork, a bowl, a rolling pin, a whisk … where else is there such a wealth of beauty derived from pure functionality?

  • So thats what it was! We have been intrigued by this device…..knew it was for the kitchen but not specifically to chop food.

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