Feb. 23--Ruby slippers, space capsules and dinosaur bones -- make some room. The Bundt pan, that made-in-Minnesota creation that became an American icon, is on its way to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Museum curators are in the Twin Cities this week, where they're gathering up one of the original aluminum Bundt cake pans, invented in 1950 by H. David Dalquist, co-founder of the cookware company Nordic Ware. Some 60 million Bundt pans later, all of America is familiar with O-shaped cakes, drizzled icings and gooey centers. "It's shaped, in some small way, American culture and how we entertain," said David Dalquist, son of the Bundt cake inventor and the current president and CEO of Nordic Ware. While the Smithsonian curators are big on the Bundt, what has really wowed them is the almost perfectly preserved record of an American business that made such an impact on consumer tastes, popular culture and everyday life. The Dalquist family has owned the St. Louis Park-based business for six decades. "At the (Smithsonian's) American History Museum, we collect objects and documents that represent a wide range of important themes in American history and American life," said Paula Johnson, a Smithsonian curator. "The Nordic Ware story really relates to so many of these themes: entrepreneurship, innovation and the changes in American foodways in the 20th century.
"It's the whole story, it's the depth and breadth that we're after," Johnson added. "But the Bundt pan was the way in." This week, Smithsonian officials are packing up 30 cubic feet of old paperwork, engineering drawings, recipe books and early advertisements along with sand-cast molds of bunny cakes and Santa cakes, microwave-cooking devices and financial ledgers. "My dad hung on to everything -- he was one of these collectors -- so we literally have boxes of stuff from over the years," Dalquist said. The family basement has been "like an archeological dig for them," he added. The Smithsonian is charged with documenting the story of America, and "it's really hard to do American history without doing food," Johnson said. So museum officials travel the country to preserve pieces of that story a morsel at a time. To date, they've collected Julia Child's kitchen, chocolate molds from Hershey's, a Krispy Kreme doughnut-making machine, a 1928 bread slicer and more.
Eventually, it all will wind up at the National Museum of American History, part of the constellation of museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The Smithsonian houses many great national treasures, including the original Star-Spangled Banner, the Wright Brothers' airplane, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 space capsule. Currently, the American History museum is being renovated. But even when it reopens, Johnson said, visitors aren't immediately likely to find a Bundt pan next to such famed icons as Dorothy's ruby slippers or George Washington's military uniform.
"We always collect things, for now and in the future," Johnson said. "We have to take the long view. Even though we may not be able to do a big food-related exhibit in the immediate future, that's always in the back of our minds. ... So we have to start collecting now. This is how we begin." Nordic Ware was founded in 1946 by H. David and Dorothy Dalquist. In its early years, the struggling company specialized in making Scandinavian cookie-making items. Then Dalquist "was approached by a group of local women from the local Hadassah society," said Dana Norsten, the company's spokeswoman. "They had an old-world, heavy, heavy ceramic pan with a hole in the middle, called a Kugelhopf."
The women wondered if Dalquist would make a lighter-weight aluminum pan. He did, adding the signature folds and later giving it the distinctive name, Bundt. Yet for years, the Bundt pan wasn't a particularly big hit. Then in 1966, a Pillsbury Bake-off winner used the Bundt pan to create the "Tunnel of Fudge" cake -- and it rocketed the Bundt pan to fame. "It was just like a frenzy," David Dalquist said. In the 1970s, Pillsbury introduced a popular line of Bundt cake mixes. Nordic Ware long ago branched out into other kitchenware lines, including its Micro-Go-Round food rotator, which remains popular. The company still sells a lot of Bundt pans, too. But the kitchenware business has changed dramatically. "We are one of only very few people who are still manufacturing in this country," Dalquist said. "Most of them have moved overseas. It's almost all imported today." The elder Dalquist died in 2005, but his widow and Nordic Ware co-founder has been a rich source of material for the Smithsonian curators. And what would the inventor of the Bundt pan think of his life's work ending up in the Smithsonian? "My dad was kind of a publicity-shy kind of person," Dalquist said. "So I think he'd be amazed that there was so much interest in the company and his products." Tom Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5428.
Copyright (c) 2007, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
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"Bundt historic? You betcha: The Smithsonian says the icon cake of '60s comfort food, its creator and the company he co-founded all deserve a place beside our greatest treasures." Saint Paul Pioneer Press [St. Paul, MN] 23 Feb. 2007. General OneFile. Web. 2 Nov. 2009.
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