My interest was piqued in how this simple gadget came to be when I ran across a cute little pop-up timer that was shaped like a turkey. Its drumsticks pop up when the bird is ready. Soon after, I pulled up a 2005 San Francisco Chronicle obituary of the man credited as the original timer's inventor, Eugene Beals.
At the time of the timer's invention, home cooks were grossly overcooking their turkeys in fear of poisoning their families. The California Turkey Producers Advisory Board, of which Beals was a member, heard the complaints loud and clear and anticipated it might be just a matter of time before Americans would move on and make some other food a Thanksgiving icon.
The article says that Beals asked the board, “Why donʼt we find some sort of gadget, something to stick in [the turkey] and tell when the turkey is done?” The solution “came from above” some days later when member Goldy Kleaver looked up at the ceiling sprinklers and made an entrepreneur's connection. Heat causes something inside the sprinklers to melt, which triggers the sprinklers to pop out.
Beals ran with the idea, and a year later -- after they figured out the right temperature at which an alloy inside would melt -- they had the first pop-up turkey timer. The company they formed to manufacture the timers was later sold and developed further by two other companies, most recently Volk Enterprises.
It appears safe to say, regardless of whether you abhor the gaping hole these timers may leave in the thigh of a turkey or the fact that a meat thermometer set to 185 degrees will do the same thing, this little invention likely did its part to save the Thanksgiving turkey as a culinary icon.
Perhaps the earlier entrepreneurs would appreciate these fun turkey timers made by Kikkerland.com, which retail for $17.
Also: A little-known fact is that it's possible to reuse any pop-up timer by dipping the tip in hot water, then pushing the pop-up piece back into the metal. Once it cools, the piece will be back in its original position ready for reuse.
-- Susan Silverberg
Photo credit: Kikkerland.com