Yesterday's Magazette

8 – Turkey Dinners Saved

A Close Call:

Turkey Dinners Saved


By Judythe Guarnera

YMTurkey1b

Wearing his chef’s hat, Grandpa placed the turkey on the table. The golden brown skin was as rich looking as the gold coins of a king, the table groaning with the weight of the traditional feast. Quickly and with skill, Grandpa began carving, removing the legs first. With the carving knife ready for its next slice, Grandpa stopped in mid-air. The sound of a “No,” had broken the worshipful silence. He looked up to see Grandma with a frightened look on her face.

“What’s the matter, Grandma?” Grandpa asked.

“How do we know the turkey is done?” Grandma gasped. “How can we be sure we won’t all die of salmonella poisoning?”

Although most of us have never known of anyone dying of salmonella from eating undercooked turkey, that fear often sat unspoken on the holiday table. Something needed to be done so that, as the tantalizing aromas wafted from the kitchen, families would not sit down to a dried out turkey.

Enter stage left, the amazing invention, the Dun-Rite Pop-up Turkey Timer, which revolutionized the art of cooking a turkey, assuring the turkey’s rightful place in the Thanksgiving holiday ritual. The trusty Dun-Rite would pop up to signal that the turkey was ready for carving.

*****

“It was just the boys’ night out,” Barbara Kliewer said with a laugh. Inventors seem to belong to an elite club.  Yet, in the 60s and 70s, when the inventors of the Pop-up Turkey Timer started meeting weekly to discuss inventions, they did not earn immediate respect from their families and friends.

“They did call themselves the Inventors Club,” Barbara said.”  This title gradually morphed into Commodity Marketers. The “boys” were also members of the California Turkey Promotion Advisory Board. The group included Goldie Kliewer, John Roberts, Gene Beals, Bob McPherrin, Harry Allan and Herman Winters. From the beginning, they had inventing on their minds and spent hours tossing out ideas and eventually testing the most promising.

Did the club have a big, fancy lab at their disposal? Best to explain here that the Kliewer family owned a turkey ranch, which had previously been an airport. A huge hangar housed two apartments which the Kliewers shared with Barbara’s parents and Goldie’s workshop. The workshop was a focal point for the Inventors Club. Goldie’s son, Steve, who as a teenager helped his dad test inventions and was actually named on several of the patents, explained the importance of a workshop on a working ranch.

“Anyone with a background in ranching or farming knows that there are lots of expenses incurred and little capital to cover them, in this case, until the turkeys were sold. Since Thanksgiving was the biggest sales time of the year, the rest of the year money could be as tight as a knot in a shoelace. It was critical for cash-strapped ranchers to be clever in designing tools and other necessities.”

Steve vividly remembers the Idea Box, which was usually full.

Since Goldie and his group were all involved with the Turkey Board, either in raising and selling turkeys or in marketing them, how to promote their product was an important focus of those meetings. Consumers wanted their holiday turkeys, but were insecure about just how to cook them. Since the fear of salmonella was a big topic, they were cooking their turkeys until they were dry and tasteless.

Knowing that overcooked turkeys or a front page story of holiday feasters ill with salmonella would be a bad thing, the Commodity Marketers had to invent a device which would take the guess work out of cooking the turkey, making it safer and easier to prepare. Such an invention would not only help them sell more turkeys, but could conceivably make the inventors rich.

The patent history (10 separate patents) dating back to 1961, details the many name changes, which included: “Temperature Signaling Device,” and “Thermally Responsive Cooking Indicator.” The device was finally patented as the “Dun-Rite Manufacturing Corporation Thermal Indicator” in 1971.

As the timer went through its various stages, action moved from the workshop to the Kliewer kitchen in the hangar. Many a turkey was roasted in Barbara’s oven. Anyone who has cooked a turkey knows how much of a mess can be made. As is often the case with genius types, they are the possessors of the bright ideas, leaving the tedious chores to the less cerebral types. Barbara had clean-up duty after the testing ended. The club members promised her a gold Cadillac when they had a model which could be sold. Not surprisingly, hopes of being filthy rich were a constant visitor and motivator in that kitchen.

Goldie had been working on the timer idea for almost 18 years. Finally the Commodity Marketers produced a working model of the Pop-Up Turkey Timer. Because the correct placement of the timer in the turkey was critical, they decided that the timer had to be sold to a turkey plant, where they would be inserted before they were sold to the public. The Norbest Turkey Plant bought the timers directly from Dun-Rite.

I have always trusted my pop-up timer, but never had a clue as to how it worked. The timer consisted of four parts: the outer case (usually white or blue); the little stick that pops up (usually red); a spring; and a blob of soft metal. The soft metal, solid at room temperature, turns to a liquid (melts) at about 185 degrees Fahrenheit. The melting frees the end of the red strip and the spring pops the red stick. Voila! The turkey is done.

While I was doing research on the Pop-Up Turkey Timer, I came across the name Leo Pearlstein (aka Mr. Food), a marketing professional. Working with Bob McPherinn, President of the California Turkey Board and a member of the Inventors Club, Pearlstein convinced the White House to accept a turkey from California to be the official turkey pardoned by the president, as part of the traditional pre-Thanksgiving ceremony. This was great publicity for the California turkey industry. After the pardon, the turkey would spend the rest of its natural life at a petting farm. (I guess this was like a “safe house” for people in the Witness Protection Program.)

Two turkeys were transported to the White House. Bob McPherrinn, representing both groups, shared the stage with John F. Kennedy and the turkey. Since the turkey was to be part of a photo op with the president of the United States, a second turkey went along as backup in case the chosen turkey got cold feet or suffered some other calamity.

Photos were taken with John F. Kennedy pardoning the California grown turkey. Unfortunately, fate stepped in. Several days after the photo shoot, President Kennedy was assassinated. The pictures were filed as the nation mourned the shocking and violent loss of its youngest president. It was years later before the pictures surfaced in a Time magazine article.

YMTurkey2

As the Dun-Rite Corporation increased their sales, even reaching foreign markets, the manufacturing and packaging outgrew the hangar and moved twice to larger buildings. They were approached by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Corporation (3M), which purchased the turkey timer patent, as well as all patents connected with the timer, including the Cake-Rite and the Truss-Rite, which held the legs in place while the turkey was cooking.

This purchase included patents that Goldie had acquired for his other inventions, even those that had little or no bearing on the timer. The turkey timer was the only one of the inventions that Norbest used. Kliewer assures me that this is common practice to protect against patent infringement. The purchase, being a big ticket item for 3M, was paid for in 3M stock, with the proviso that the stock be held for at least 5 years. This was to prevent the market from being flooded with the sold or traded shares, endangering 3M’s market viability. I guess that’s why Barbara never got her gold Cadillac.

Goldie Kliewer, with failing health challenging his ability to work, wanted his sons, Steve and Mike, to continue inventing with him. Unfortunately, by then, both boys were in pursuit of their own interests.

As with many things in life, this story seems to have come full circle. Steve pursued his degree in Physics, became an engineer and finally a high school teacher. At the Endeavour Academy at Paso Robles High School, two years running, Steve’s Endeavour Engineering Design classes chose inventions as their projects. This was done with the support of Lemelson Institute at MIT. Goldie would have been proud.

Several billion turkeys later, Americans still sit down to the traditional turkey and trimmings on Thanksgiving Day. Ask anyone how turkey came to be the star at that dinner and you will probably hear that turkey was on the table the first year the Pilgrims and the Indians sat down together to celebrate. Is this true you ask? The jury is still out.


Judythe Guarnera is a retired freelance writer, Mediator and Senior Peer Counselor. She has been involved with senior programs and issues for almost 20 years.  She has a BS degree and is certified in Mediation, Gerontology and Program Design and management.  She considers communication and connection as key to successful interaction with others.  Much of her writing and volunteer work are focused on those two goals.

Judythe can be reaced at follow.yourheart@sbcglobal.net or at (805) 474-9598.  Her address is 1104 Marbella Court, Grover Beach CA 03433.

Vol. 36 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2009

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