2005/01/28

The Passing of Mr. "Easy-Bake Oven"

By JULIETTE ROSSANT

James O. KuhnYou never gave it a second thought after you moved on to the real thing, but for you and 40 million others across America, kitchen life began in the playroom with a little toy called the "Easy Bake Oven."

Well, doff your toques and bow your heads for a moment of silence at the passing of a great man. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, the inventor of the Easy Bake Over, James O. 'Jeep' Kuhn, the creative engineer who oversaw the development team as vice president of Research & Development at Kenner, died on January 19, 2005, at his home in Sonoma, CA, aged 75.

Easy-Bake OvenYou laugh at my seriousness. And I laugh myself, as I remember his best known invention.

Did you bake with an Easy-Bake Oven? You mixed up the batter and poured it the matching baking pans. You opened the oven and slid in the pans, to bake under a 40-watt light. If you waited for it to cool, you ate the first cake you ever cooked. My older sister had an Easy-Bake Oven, and I remember how much fun it was baking those simple little cakes and frosting them. The Easy-Bake Oven held the same mystery for me as my mother's oven because of its equally awesome ability to cook.

Even if you never played with an Easy-Bake Oven or feasted on its cakes, you may be enjoying it indirectly today.

Easy-Bake Oven boxAccording to The Enquirer, the Easy-Bake Oven appealed to boys as well as girls -- and some of the boys are now top chefs and even TV stars. You see, once upon a time, there as a little boy named "Bobby" -- we know him today s Bobby Flay, resident chef on the CBS Early Show, star of several shows on the Food Network, and chef-owner of Mesa Grill and Bolo. Little Bobby begged his parents for one over his father's alternative, G.I. Joe. Fortunately, Papa was overruled that time, because today Bobby is one of the best known chefs in America. (Another Easy-Bake Oven boy is Rick Bayless, star on PBS and chef-owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo.)

Citizen CakeGirls had them, too, though, of course. On short notice, Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake told me tonight by phone that she had a Easy-Bake Oven as a girl. When her cake mix ran out, her mother told Elizabeth to make her own. "I thought that was so cool!" she said. Talk about "girl power"!

If raw talent is not enough for you, there is still a chance for you to develop your own Easy-Bake Oven skills, as the toy has cookbooks and books:
There is even a collection of children's email letters called Dear Santa, I Want 1 Million Dollars Please or an Easy-Bake Oven.

Mr. Kuhn had moved to Sonoma less than a decade ago, supposedly in retirement, but instead he headed the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. From 2002 until his death he served as president of the board of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District. He was a "devoted champion of public education," as hometown paper The Sonoma Index Tribune called him. A friend remembered him as "an informed, intelligent, warm and articulate human being." Another friend said, "He will be missed by everybody." Few knew of his illness, at his own request; only three weeks earler, his doctor had told him that cancer had come back. A week before his death, he was still presiding over a school board meeting, determined to live every moment before cancer beat him (click here to read the complete article).

James 'Jeep' KuhnSo, let us indeed be thankful of this good man. We hardly knew him, and yet we knew him very well. His legacy in Education lives on: among our living chefs, amidst the literature of our generation, and in our own children's playrooms. Thank you, Mr. Kuhn, and condolences to your family, who must be rightly proud of you.

For those of you who wish to honor Mr. Kuhn's memory, please send donations to:
Jeep Kuhn Educational Fund
2130 Grove Street
Sonoma, CA 95476

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeep was one of my very first boy friends = stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, a friend of my cousin in Cincinnati - he having just graduated from MIT, and me about to go to Smith as a freshman. We had some wonderful times together, and I still think of him fondly. He was a very special person, and I am sad to know he is gone. Judy Ettlinger Cohn

8:27 PM, February 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeep was one of my very first boy friends = stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, a friend of my cousin in Cincinnati - he having just graduated from MIT, and me about to go to Smith as a freshman. We had some wonderful times together, and I still think of him fondly. He was a very special person, and I am sad to know he is gone. Judy Ettlinger Cohn

8:27 PM, February 26, 2005  
Anonymous C. Howes said...

Jeep Kuhn was a very creative man and good friend of my Father's. However, I feel a correction must be made. You'll note that the Cincinnati Enquirer never actually says that Jeep "invented" the Easy-Bake. Rather, he was VP of Of R&D during it's invention and "oversaw" it. The inventor, the man who actually concieved of the design with the light bulb, built the prototype and sold the rights to Al Steiner, founder of Kenner Toys, was my father, Ronald Howes.

Through out the years I've heard of a number of people who were said to be the "inventor" of Easy-Bake, including Al Steiner, a salesman whose contribution to the project consisted of suggesting Kenner make a pretzel oven, and Jeep Kuhn. But the Truth is the Truth. So, if anyone wishes to pay homage to the true inventor who brought so much joy to so many children please keep in mind my dear ol' dad. He was also involved along with Jeep in many other classic toys from Kenner during the 1960's. He still lives in Cincinnati to this day and has recently come out of retirement to pursue metallurgical and energy research.

This is in no way meant to diminish the memory and contributions of Jeep Kuhn. However, I'm on a mission set the record straight aboutthe toy legacy of Ron Howes.

Thank You,
C. Howes

3:27 PM, January 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C Howes, could you tell me a little more about your father, Ronald Howes. I am doing a project about the oven, and i need some background info on Mr. Ronald Howes, the true inventor.

8:57 PM, May 06, 2009  

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