Hand-held green corn shredders
If you are my age or older and grew up in a rural you have probably heard the expression “Faster than green corn through the new maid.” This of course refers to the “explosive speed” that many people experience in their intestinal tract when ingesting corn on the cob. Thus was born a category of utensils I call green corn shredders.
A corn cob contains many rows of grains, and an individual grain of corn consists of three basic parts-the indigestible shell or hull; the milk or pulp within the hull; and the kernel or seed (germ) held within the hull. When corn is eaten “on the cob,” or sliced off and then eaten, the hull is ingested with the nutritious pulp and seed, causing real misery for many people.
There are two types of corn on the cob-seasoned, or hard, corn and fresh, or soft, corn. There is a large number of patents for devices to shell hard corn, from heavy machinery to hand held tools. Hard corn shellers are not included in this article.
Fresh, soft corn is called green corn, whether it is cooked or raw. Patented devices for working with green corn (both cooked and raw) generally fall into two categories-those that remove the entire grain (including hull, kernel, and pulp) from the cob, and those that strip the pulp and kernel from the grain and either leave the hulls on the cob or provide for separating them from the pulp and kernel. The former (that remove everything) I call slicers, and the latter devices (that strip the pulp and kernel from the hull) I call green corn shredders. The patents use a variety of terms, but these two seem to be most descriptive.
Green corn slicers often work by slicing with a blade arrangement, and may be either hand-held or embodied in large high volume/commercial devices. Slicers are not the main focus of this article, however; Table I lists twenty-one of these patents for reference. The most commonly used slicer is an ordinary table or kitchen knife. Two examples of slicers are shown in Figure 1.
Shredders usually employ some type of serrated edge or blades to slice open the hulls, and a scraping edge to squeeze out the pulp and kernels. They were made as table– supported devices for high volume application and also as hand-held tools for kitchen or dining table use. Table II lists twenty-four patents for table-supported shredders.
Figure 2 shows an example of a table-supported green corn shredder, with the hull slicing teeth to the right and the scraping blade to the left. I believe this shredder is based on Taylor’s 1856 patent (no. 14,259), but may also be similar to Malpas’s 1975 patent (no. D236,313) which references Taylor’s patent.
Bahn’s 1908 patent states “My invention is a device for slitting the rows of grains or kernels of boiled or roasted sweet corn preparatory to eating off the cob the edible or most palatable, easily digested, and wholesome pulpy and juicy portion which is thus released from the tough, un-nutritious, and indigestible fibrous covering.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the patent history is long, and based on my experience over the past twenty years of looking for actual examples, relatively few manufactured examples are to be found. I have found five different hand-held shredders.
Shredder patents have been filed under at least eleven patent classifications, and within those classifications under at least sixty-one sub-classifications. Table III lists the eleven classifications under which I have found fifty-eight patents for corn shredders, thirty-four of them of the hand-held variety. A majority of them were under Classification 30, sub-classification 121.5-Cutlery/corn strippers.
The patents for shredders span a long time, at least from 1856 to 2001. That seems like a long span for inventions that perform such a simple task, especially when there really is little change in the materials or technology being applied. It is also interesting that of the twenty-nine different patentees for hand-held shredders, nine (31 percent) were women.
Hand-Held Green Corn Shredders Following are the shredder patents and shredders I have found for the hand-held category, in chronological order. I have noted the patent number, date of patent, patentee and hometown, patent title, short description, and patent classification category(s) under which the patent was filed, along with an illustration of the patent. I have included photographs of some of the shredders I have found for the applicable patents.
Figure 3 shows patent no. 52,092 (Culinary Implement, 30/121.5, 15/236.07, 30/171) issued 16 January 1866, to E.L. Tevis, Philadelphia. In his application Tevis states “I am aware that many devices have been already invented….”, but I was able to find only one (a table-supported version) before 1866. Clearly, there must be more before this date. Tevis’s patent was intended to function as a slicer, but it would also function as a shredder.
W. L. Gilroy of Philadelphia patented a green corn knife on 22 September 1868. Patent no. 82,306, has a toothed blade that slits kernels and squeezes the pulp and kernels from the hulls, leaving the hulls adhering to the cob (Figure 4). It is classified under 30/121.5 and 30/286. Gilroy received a second patent, no. 90,522, on 25 May 1869 for an implement for cutting green corn (Figure 5). This tool completed his series of knife and fork corn cutters for table use with one for higher volume use. A manufactured version is pictured in Linda Franklin’s 300 Years of Kitchen Collectibles.1 Franklin calls it a corn grater and describes it as “pieced soldered tin, 3 in. H, strap handle, marked F.A. Walker, Boston.”‘ It is classified 30/121.5, 30/305, and 99/515. The final Gilroy patent, a corn fork, has the cutters at the back of the tines, which serve to open the hulls, and the tine edge or the handle is used to squeeze out the pulp and kernels (Figure 6). Patent no. 90,836 was granted 1 June 1869. It is classified 30/148.
On 13 November 1877, W. A. L. Kirk, Hamilton, Ohio, received a patent, no. 197,145, for a green corn stripper (Figure 7 ). A handled toothed bar with guards to prevent splattering, this patent is classified 30/121.5, 30/289, 30/304, 30/315, 99/509, and 206/380.
New Yorker Eliza M. C. Anderson, one of the several female patent holders for corn shredders, received patent no. 287,080, for a green corn cutter on 23 October 1883 (Figure 8). She called it a maize grater in the text; a small two-fingered loop is used to hold it. It is classified 30/121.5 and 30/278. Another woman, Cecelia B. Darley of Philadelphia, patented a corn cutting device on 4 March 1890 (Figure 9). Shaped like a heart, it shreds two rows at a time. Patent no. 422,384, it is classified 30/121.5 and 30/299.
In Figure 10 is a green corn cutter of a very simple design. Patent no. 564,832 was granted to N. C. McCown, Beaver, Oklahoma Territories, on 28 July 1896 and is classified 30/121.5 and 30/355.
In contrast, R. M. Pancoast of Camden, New Jersey, received patent no. 631,259 on 15 August 1899 that included seventeen examples of different ways to construct it. One example incorporates a potato peeler and eye remover. The patent focuses on the process for forming the teeth (one or two rows) by punching a single piece of metal. It does not discuss scraping the kernels or pulp from the slit hulls (Figure s 11 & 12). Its classification numbers are 30/121.5, 30/287, 30/294,30/304, 30/317, 30/353, and 99/509.
Jesse A. Crandall of New York City was granted patent no. 644,732 on 6 March 1900 for a corn cutting spoon (Figure 13). Technically, this spoon acts as a slicer, but since it only slices the tops of the hulls off with a serrated edge, I have included it under shredders. It is classified 30/149, 7/113, 30/121.5, and 99/567.
Although Annie M. Furrow of Washington, D.C.. intended this corn carver (Figure 14) to be a slicer, the end of this device with serrated edge and scraper could also function as a shredder. She received patent no. 726,524 on 28 April 1903 for this device, which is classified 30/121.5,7/158, 30/299, 99/ 567, and D7/696.
J. S. Rohrer of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, received patent no. 790,228 for this “culinary device” (Figure 15). A multiple use implement, the teeth slice the hulls open and the blade squeezes out the pulp and kernels. A sketch of this item is also shown in 300 Tears of Kitchen Collectibles.2 Franklin calls it a “fish scaler and combo tool, and describes it as “Nickeled steel, turned wood handle. Montgomery Ward catalog, c. 1910.” It is classified 30/ 121.5, 7/113, 15/105, 15/236.07, and 15/236.08. G. A. Bahn of Austin, Texas, patented his device (Figure 16) for slitting sweet corn (patent no. 881.841, 10 March 1908). It cuts one row at a time in preparation for sucking the pulp and kernels from the grain hulls. Its classification numbers are 30/317, 30/121.5, 99/485, and 99/495.
Another woman from Washington, D. C., Nannie McKeever, received patent no. 892,873 on 7 July 1908 for a corn grater (Figure 17). She stated in her description that “The outer knife-edged blades serve to cut the skin on the individual grains of corn, and the teeth on the inner blades operate to free the meal and kernels from the skin, which remains on the cob.” It is classified 30/121.5.
A. W. Thomas, Rome, N.Y., patented a corn cutter knife (no. 917,976) on 13 April 1909 (Figure 18). He also had an earlier patent (no. 894,804) that was a large, table-supported machine for doing the same thing. It is classified 30/121.5, 30/299, 30/304, 30/356, 99/509, and D7/693.
Margaret B. Johnson from Alabama City, Alabama, patented a very interesting ear corn parer (no. 935,517, on 28 September 1909, Figure 19). It has multiple slitting blades with a stripping bar following the slitters and is classified 30/121.5, and 30/299. Figure 20 shows two views of a shredder based on Johnson’s patent. Figure boa shows the nine slicing blades (the row nearest the handle) and the following serrated bar for separating the pulp and kernels from the slit hulls. On both the slicing blades and the serrated bar, the outer onethird (each end) sticks out farther to form a curvature to match the cob. Figure 20b shows the back showing a continuous scraper bar as shown in the patent. This corn parer is marked CORN SHREDDER and READING. I assume this refers either to Reading, Pennsylvania, or to the Reading Hardware Company of Reading, Pennsylvania, which made household tools from 1868 to at least 1910. The shredder is a casting.
In contrast is the patent, no. 961,825, granted on 21 June 1910 to A. Wells of New York City (Figure 2 1). This device for removing the kernels of corn is a simple set of shredders followed by a scraper, punched from a single piece of metal. It is classified 30/121.5 and D7/696. On 7 February 1911, R. M. Pancoast received another patent (no. 983,515) for a corn slitter and scraper (Figure 22). In this patent he added a curved scraping edge to his previous patent; it is classified 30/ 121.5 and 30/304.
I have difficulty envisioning the tool from the patent drawings and description (patent no. 1,035,606, 13 August 1912) of M. Kohn, Chicago, Illinois (Figure 23). This device for removing corn from the cob is a curved row of slitters with the back side being the scraper. It is classified 30/121.5, 30/125.5, 30/ 13.5, 30/99, and 30/304.
Susie H. Doscher of New York City received patent no. 1,116,035 on 3 November 1914 for a culinary implement (Figure 24). It has two slitting blades bracketing a guide blade, with a scraping blade at right angles to scrape the pulp and kernels from the slit grains. It is classified 30/121.5 and 30/304.
Patent no. 1,345,456 was issued 6 July 1920 to W. Olcott, South Manchester, Connecticut, for a corn pulp remover (Figure 25). The teeth on the device slice the hulls open, and the flange squeezes the pulp out. Its classification numbers are 30/121.5, 99/510, and D7/693. Olcott later received patent no. 1,401,635 for a corn creamer on 27 December 1921 (Figure 26). Although this tool was intended to operate as a slicer, its design permits it to be used as a shredder by slicing the very tops of the hulls and scraping out the contents using the back flange. It is classified 30/12 1.5 and 30/78. Figure 27 shows two of the tools manufactured from Olcott’s patents. Figure 27a is a top view of the two Olcott shredders; Figure 28b is the bottom view of them. The tool at the top of Figure 27a is his 1920 patent, what he called a corn pulp remover. However, this tool is actually marked CORN CREAMER PAT JULY 6-20 WALTER OLCOTT SO. MANCHESTER, CONN. The tools on the bottom of each figure are his 1921 patent, which he called a corn creamer, but again this tool is marked, CORN-SLICER PAT DEC. 27-1921 WALTER OLCOTT SO. MANCHESTER, CONN. On 2 May 1922 Olcott received his patent (no. 1,414,372) for a green corn implement (Figure 28). This patent combines the features his two earlier patents so that the user may employ either the blade or the teeth to open the grain hulls. It is classified 30/121.5 and 30/304.
A green corn huller (Figure 29), which uses a series of rotating, toothed discs to slice the hulls open, a scraper to scrape the pulp and kernels, and a cover to reduce splatter, was granted to L. A. Hurlburt of Perry, Iowa, on 7 April 1931 (no. 1,799,588). He claimed the patent was an improvement to his earlier (31 December 1928) patent application. I was unable to locate an earlier patent for him, so I don’t know if one was ever issued. This patent was classified 30/121.5, 15/105, 15/236.05, 15/236.08, and 30/307.
On 15 November 1932, O. C. Hemp of Staunton, Virginia, patented his vegetable grater (no. 1,887,714, Figure 30). Hemp’s patent operated as either a slicer or a shredder. It uses several rows of grating teeth to open the hulls and free the pulp with the body of the grater reducing splatter. It also has a sharp edge so the user may cut the grain hulls from the cob. It is classified as 30/121.5. C. B. Bacon of Bridgeport, Connecticut, had received a patent (no. 2,040,458) on 12 May 1936, which had many similarities to previous patents (Figure 31). Bacon states that his construction is not original, but offers a marked improvement over prior devices by being stronger, yet lightweight and rigid. The patent shows several ways to construct the implement. The example of the patent is marked “H & B Co.” (Figure 32). It is classified 30/121.5, 30/123.5, and D7/693.
C. H. Schetzer of North Portland, Oregon, patented a culinary implement that was a complex solution to a simple task (Figure 33). Schetzer took eight pages to describe the patent (no. 2,244,730, issued 10 June 1941). The implement slices the tops off the grain hulls and then squeezes the pulp and kernels from the cob while leaving the hulls attached. The depth of cut for the hull tops is adjustable. It is classified 30/121.5, 30/123.6, and 99/567.
The corn kernel cutter patented by J. H. Higgins, Newport, R.I., (patent no. 2,412,149, issued 3 December 1946) was a multi-bladed tool for slitting the grain hulls of several rows at a time, to “tenderize” them (Figure 34). There is no mention of a scraping function for removal of pulp and kernels, with the implication that after “tenderizing” the cob you would then suck the pulp and kernels from the hulls. It is classified 30/121.5, 30/304, 30/ 314, 30/333, 30/353, 99/509, and D7/693.
Patent no. 2,509,452 was issued on 30 May 1950 to W. A. Robinson of Upton, Massachusetts (Figure 35). This device for extracting kernels from green corn is semicircular and slits the hulls, spreads them open, then compresses them to squeeze out the milk and kernels while reducing splatter. It is classified 30/121.5 and D7/693.
A toothed shredder with a collecting bowl on the other end of the handle to release the milk and kernels from the grain hulls and collect them for consumption was patented (no. 2,541,559) on 13 February 1951, by Gaetana Ternullo, San Francisco (Figure 36). This scraping utensil having an oval bowl is classified SO/ 136, 15/105, 30/171, 452/141, and 452/172.
Patent no. 2,785,463 was granted on 19 March 1957 to C. H. Ager of Portland, Oregon, for a cream corn extractor (Figure 37). The extractor is a piece of curved metal having teeth at one end to slice the hulls open, and a scraper blade at the other end to squeeze out the contents. It is classified 30/280, 30/121.5, 30/ 136, 30/169, 30/287, 30/355, and 99/495.
The shortest patent description I found-only one sentence-was for a design patent (no. D 199,074) granted to T. Cannavo of Moorestown, New Jersey, on 8 September 1964 (Figure 38). Called an ear corn slitter, it is a multi-toothed hull slitter, classified D7/693, 30/121.5, 30/303, 30/343, 99/485, and 99/495.
Patent no. 3,270,789, a corn tenderizer, uses multiple-toothed wheels to make it “possible to either lightly or deeply break through the skins of the kernels of an ear of corn so as to permit the butter to enter the interior of the kernels as well as to facilitate the removal of the meat while leaving the major portion at least of the skins adhering to the cob, thereby rendering the corn not only more flavorful but also more digestible” (Figure 39). J. Majeske of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, was granted the patent on 6 September 1966, and it is classified 30/365, 30/121.5, 30/366, and D7/694.
On 10 October 2000, Margery L. Young of Ontario, N.Y., received a patent for her kernel buster (no. 6,128,823). A two-piece device, one for holding the cob and the other a toothed plate upon which to roll the cob, it breaks open the grains for consumption of the pulp and kernels (Figure 40). The intent of this patent is to facilitate the eating of corn on the cob by elderly people with dentures. There are eight pages of description. It is classified 30/121.5 and 294/5.
With so many patents over a span of almost 150 years, why isn’t the antique market flooded with inexpensive “finds” of these items? Maybe now it will be. Start looking, and send me boxes of corn shredders!
1. Linda Campbell Franklin, 300 Years of Kitchen Collectibles 3rd. ed. (Americana Books, 1991), 53.
2. Franklin. 53.
EAIA member Bob Roger wrote about self boring spigots in the December 2002 issue of The Chronicle.
Copyright Early American Industries Association Mar 2003
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