Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Penguin Ice Bucket



Look at this ice bucket. Seem familiar?

I'm betting it does. For the generation that came of age after WWII, this was their ice bucket. It must have been cheap and easy to find (Woolworths? Macy's?), because everyone had one. For the generation that grew up in the '60s and '70s, this was their parents' ice bucket. It made a regular appearance every day around cocktail hour. For today's younger generation, it is a collector's item. The bucket can be found in nearly every corner antique store, going for anything from $25 to $80.

My parents owns a penguin ice bucket. I never thought much about it as a kid, though some part of me enjoyed to look of it. Penguins are soothing figures, especially to a child, and I'm sure the elegance of the Art Deco design was doing a number on my eyes as well.

The bucket seems to be held in some esteem by the drinking cognescenti. There is one on display in the new Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans. Imagine my stunned reaction when I saw that knick-knack under glass.

I have the same bucket today. I wish I could say it was my parents, but no—they still own and use theirs. I bought mine at a kitschy second-hand shop. Think I got it for $10, which is a steal these days. (I would refuse to pay $80 for an item I know my mom and dad picked up for $6.99.)

I've learned something about the bucket recently that makes me feel even more proprietary about it. It was made by the West Bend Aluminum Company in West Bend, Wisconsin, not a stone's throw from where I grew up. No wonder my parents owned one!

The items official name is the West Bend Penguin Hot and Cold Server Ice Bucket. (So, what? I could serve soup in it?) I'm not judge of metals, but it's either aluminum or stainless steel. It also came in a copper-colored version, which is much more rare. The sloping handles, which look like penguin wings, and the top handle are wood on mine, but other versions had Bakelite handles, either in brown or black. Not sure which type of bucket is more valuable.

The Patent on the bucket is No. 2,349,099 and Des. 127,279. The design was filed March 13, 1941 and issued May 20, 1941; the patent was filed May 19, 1941 and issued May 16, 1944. Nonetheless, the bucket really had its heyday in the 1950s and early 1960s.



About the West Bend Aluminum Company, it was founded in 1911 by young Bernhardt C. Ziegler. Sears & Roebuck was an early customer of their products. The Waterless Cooker, a large pot with inset pans, was a success for the company in the 1920s. In 1932 it introduced a "Flavo-Seal" line of heavy-gauge cookware made of up roasters, saucepans, and skillets. The factory produced war-related goods during World War I, World War II and the Korean War. In 1961, it changed its name to the West Bend Company. It continued to grow throughout the decades and was bought by Premark's Consumer Products Group in 1995. There was still a big plant in West Bend until recently, but many others as well, including "West Bend de Mexico" in Renosa, Mexico.

And then this:

In 2003, The West Bend Company was acquired by Focus Products Group, LLC, an investment and growth oriented holding company headquartered in Vernon Hills, IL, and renamed West Bend Housewares.

In early 2007, Focus Products Group acquired Back to Basics Products, an inventive housewares company based out of Utah. Back to Basics was combined with West Bend Housewares to create Focus Electrics, a new leader in innovative kitchen appliances at competitive prices. This merge strengthened and expanded both lines to bring the consumer a wider range of inventive, seasonal and traditional appliance options for their kitchen.


Focus Electrics. Doesn't have the same ring, does it? I think business still goes on in West Bend, but I'm not sure.

45 comments:

Lise Green said...

My parent also own "The Penguin". I now how my Grandparent's penguin. Our family has always used then to keep rolls and biscuits warm, works great.

The Girl said...

I own 6 of these treasures. 1 copper, 2 wooden handled, and 3 bakelite handled. I use them for anything from storing ice, serving rice and I even have a recipe for a mini breakfast muffin that calls for them to be stored in this particular server. I see them at flea markets and auctions all of the time.

Anonymous said...

i want one :)

Anonymous said...

It is always a lucky day whenever I encounter one of these penguins! While thrift shopping, or flea market prowling, if I see one it brightens my day. I'm looking for one right now, as a gift for my sister.

Giulietta said...

I have just bought my very own Penguin server over here in the UK, complete with the instruction leaflet. I simply fell in love with it. Looking forward to filling it with ice for Pimms in the garden this summer.

Anonymous said...

I just dusted off my penguin server to take to my 91 year old dad that has dementia. I hope it puts a smile on his face, since he invented it while he worked at West Bend !!!!

Robert Simonson said...

You Dad invented it? Really? Wow.

Could you tell me more about that? I'm curious.

rbrtsimonson@gmail.com

Amy said...

Recently drunk and loved: D
omaine Bouchard Pere & Fils
Beaune du Chateau, Premier Cru 2005

Yum.

Oh, I also picked up my 2nd Penquin ice bucket/warmer today for $2.99. Yip-eee Love the idea of keeping rolls warm.

Anonymous said...

The penguin server on our family farm always held fresh homemade cookies!! My sister has Mom's, I picked one up years ago, and we have found one for each of our four brothers. Nostalgia!!

Anonymous said...

I have about a dozen of these but am still looking for a copper one in good condition. I suspect though, that the 'copper' ones were originally chrome-plated. The earliest one I have - and all of mine are chromed - has the wooden handles and knob, a crockery liner rather than stainless, and says 'solid copper' on the bottom. It also says 'patents applied for', while later ones have a patent date of 1941.

I once called West Bend and talked to some old-timer in the R&D department who told me the history, but I lost my notes a few years back in a house fire. I'd be interested in finding out [again] when they actually went into production.

Anonymous said...

I have a copper one. It looks to me like it was copper all along. The lid is copper on both sides. It does not say solid copper on the bottom.

Anonymous said...

I just got my second one for a steal of $2. The cashier at the thrift store said, "We just put that out. None of us know what it is, do you?" Oh yes I do.......

Anonymous said...

My mother had a Penguin when I was growing up. It still sits in her hutch today. As a kid she always put pancakes or french toast in it to keep warm until ready to serve.

Anonymous said...

My Auntie had hers on a little table filled with sweets. Each visit as we left we were allowed to take one. I now have it with fond memories and am keeping the tradition up.

Anonymous said...

We used to put French Fries in our penguin bucket. My sister-in-law put that bucket on her list for when my mom died. The funny thing is I was reading a mystery book that the main character is a picker (of antiques) and she had mentioned this bucket, so it made me a little curious.

Laura said...

Always a staple of our family picnics. My grandma used to put potato salad in it, to keep it cool. I have picked up a couple over the years myself and currently use one as an ice bucket. :)

Anonymous said...

My mother-in-law used a Penguin all the time in the '70's and 80's. (Probably years before that also)We received a Penguin as a wedding gift in 1974 and use it all the time! We put grilled meat in it to keep hot until everything else is ready to serve. My son recently found one at an antique store for $10.00. He said he has many memories of us using it and wanted one of his own. :)

DG said...

We just picked one up that has aluminum on the outside, not chrome. We compared it with our chrome one. On the aluminum one the penguins are more articulated, with clearly drawn eyes, feathers on the wings and near the feet and lines on the feet. No chrome 'icing'. The knob and handles are wood and it has a white enameled liner which looks like porcelain but is not.The seller, an older antique dealer, had never seen one like it, nor had the dealer at another booth. Does anyone know about these?

traveljunkieMN said...

I have only known this as my dads potato salad holder. Now that it is mine, I took it today to my employers potluck lunch with, of course potato salad in it. My co-worker said "Oh how cute, you are using a ice bucket to hold your potato salad". I was astonished and said "This is no ice bucket, this is a potato salad holder!". She said "Google it" so I did. What a wonderful story and history I found about The Penguin Ice Bucket. I will treasure it forever and only use it to hold Potato Salad.

mpt said...

Ebay sellers list these as chrome, aluminum or stainless steel. Do you know if west Bend actually made them in chrome or are the sellers mistaken? thanks

Anonymous said...

I just picked up one. Found it in an old trailer that has been vacant for years. I thought it was cool and took it. Now that I know what it is and what the history of it is, I hope to be able to clean off all the rust and get it back to it's original shine.

Anyone suggest how to get rid of the rust?

Mary Jo Anderson said...

I have an opportunity to purchase "The Penguin". It's not in what I'd call mint condition. It has a few dings and blotches but still very darling. The seller doesn't know what to ask for it. I told her I would research it. I noticed writer's comment about price ranges. What do you think is a fair price for me to offer her?

Ric said...

I remember the Penguin Ice Bucket from when I was a kid. My parents got theirs as a wedding gift in 1959 and still have it. I found a chrome with brown bakelite handles one at a gargae sale for $5.
ANYBODY know if they came with, or did Westbend sell, tongs to go with it?
Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thank you to Robert Simonson and all comments ... just picked one up today - first garage sale I've attended in years, may be a convert as a result of this find! One look and knew it was cool, but to find all the genuine uses for this thing ... WOW! It's mine, all mine! Lynne

amy said...

This is such an amazing thread. I love getting little comments through these past few years. I have two of these, one was my parents, from the 60's and one I bought at a thrift shop. Just love it so much. And really love the idea of keeping rolls warm in it. Not sure if there were tongs, but it sure seems like there would have been.

Anonymous said...

I just bought one today,$25 chrome natural wood handles. A little beat but not bad. I'm going to clean it with Simachrome, comments on this? Love all the family memory comments, rolls, potato salad, cookies, pancakes, french toast, french fries and ice! God bless all the love.

Anonymous said...

cleaning rust,I was happy but sad to see my cousin still had my grandparent's Penguin ice bucket.Happy to snach it from the jaws of her mom's estate sale, sad because it was coverd with rust. I used symacrom and a WELL used teflon pad, OOOO steel wool for tough spots, then more symacrome with a old cloth diaper. It came out bright and shineeey just like it use to look like at gram's dinner partys.Whenever my cousin sees it at my party's, she now decairs "that was my mother's and I want i back". To witch I say" no i bought it at an estate sale all coverd with rust for $3.00 I cleaned it and shined it and made it my own" and grandma's)LOL" I want to say it took me about 4 or 5 hours, and worth ever minuet.I just picked 1 up for a friend for $10.00 thats in great shape no rust no digs

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful thread to find! I just received a Penguin this week as a holiday gift, and now I know all of the great uses for it -- and also how to clean it up and make it look like new again. In fact, there's a greedy little part of me that thinks I may need more than one Penguin in my life!
Kathryn

Anonymous said...

We had this in the family as long as I can remember (1964). It is in our curio with other items of inheritance. I remember warm bread at my grandma's, mmm.
Just initiated a search to find more about it.
From what I read mine must be stainless (with black handles) since I never took care of it, always kept in a display as I just enjoyed the look of it. It's very lustrous, without a scratch.
I'm thrilled about this information trail and can only cherish it more.
Thank you, from Québec.

mark said...

just picked one of these penguins up at an estate sale in michigan. paid $7.50 for it, and its in amazing shape with no rust or scratches looks brand new except for the handles which seem dull to me. can anyone tell me what the handles should look like?

amy said...

The handles are most likely bake- lite or wooden..if they are dull they must be bakelite. Not sure how to brighten those up.

Anonymous said...

I just got one of my own - I'm so happy. Can the rubber seal be replaced?

Anonymous said...

I just picked one up at a yard sale for $1.00 I have three now and love them ALL! Never knew the story behind them until now..thank you Google! I collect Penquins so it caught my eye and to my suprise it was only $1.00.

Anonymous said...

I have about 20 of these. I think they were made in three metals. Brushed alumium, chrome plated steel and solid copper. Chrome is by far the most common. Copper the most rare. Wood and bakelike were used for handles. I buy all the good ones that are cheap and give a few out as holiday gifts. The seals can be replaced but they are hard to find. I had a local seal company make some for me. They are truly icons of the 50's.

Melissa said...

Wow. When I was a little baby in the mid 50's, my mother had one. This round shiney object always drew my fasenated baby gaze, I remember it clearly. It was around in my childhood, I don't know what happened to it. My mom is dead now. Yesterday I was at a Goodwill. And there one was! 99 cents. Chrome, flawless, wooden handles. Here I find it came out in 1941, same year as my General Electric refrigerator. Guess where I keep the Penguin? On top of the fridge! Finding one gives me back those magic baby feelings and a link with my mom. Im glad penquins have a fan club.

Anonymous said...

Found one that looks like new for my 29yr old daughter in law who is into the 50,s kitchen crome. Love to see things from childhood carried on & appricated, makes me smile.

Emily McMullen said...

What a great post! Thank you! I've read every comment and just love seeing how it was used! I remember it from visiting my grandma as a child. She kept it on top of her fridge and kept sweets in it for all of us. After years of searching, I finally found one of my own at a yard sale for a few bucks. It sits on top of the fridge. :) But, after reading all these posts, I think I actually need to start using it!! ;)

Anonymous said...

I just found my penguin bucket today at a garage sale for $2.00 Not knowing the history behind it, it still caught my eye so I picked it up. Now that I know the history, I'm so glad I got it.

Anonymous said...

I also just bought one today for $2 at a Christian Mission thrift store. I had seen one at a respectable antique dealer's booth so I knew it was a good find. I originally bought it to resell because I have a booth at a flea market. However, after reading all these posts and hearing the wonderful memories- I now want to keep it and create those same memories for my children! And yes I will be on the lookout for a copper one now!

Punk Glam Queen (punk.glam.queen@gmail.com) said...

What a fantastic post, thank you for such a thorough history! I love all the comments as well, its so lovely to hear the nostalgic stories regarding a simple household item that became so iconic. I always knew it (as a kid growing up in the 60s) as an ice bucket, and never knew it was for both hot and cold so I really appreciate the great ideas! I picked mine up secondhand over 20 years ago, and now won't pass when I see another as I'm seeing it through new eyes and have great plans for my penguin to make more appearances on our dinner table! Cheers! Suzanne

Diane R. said...

I just found the penguin bucket today and I had the hugest smile with my find! Like all of you, I have fond memories of that bucket proudly displayed in the center of the kitchen table on weekends with piping hot pancakes inside. Love the other ideas as well and will put it to good use. The one I bought today had tongs in them but I don't think they match.

Anonymous said...

and I just found my first today!! $5 @ estate... highly polished aluminum.. drk. brown bakelite handles & knob... only a few spots of discoloration that will easily clean up

Strokr n' Acye said...

I appreciate the info on the Penguin. I've been looking for an ice bucket for my home bar. Never saw a Penguin until today, where there were 3 in various booths at an antique mall in Maumee, OH. I bought the nicest one, in mostly mint condition for $10. The others had some rust and wear, and wanted more $$.

Anonymous said...

My brother an
d sister-in-law wrapped up the one they had from my Grandparents and gave it to my parents at their 40th wedding anniversary. We all had a good laugh since we remembered it from Grandma's house so many years ago. My parents have now made 61 years of marriage and Mom gave it to me today. Makes me smile.

Maura Kennedy said...

I was just putting my Penguin away after using it to keep the rolls warm at Thanksgiving, just like Mom did in the '50s. I bought mine at a flea market when I first set up housekeeping in the '70s. It's the chrome plated model with wood handles, positively pristine. I have used it to serve chili and gumbo, to keep mashed potatoes warm, and for ice. Just looking at it makes me happy! Glad to know so many others love their Penguin.