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Mixers are distinct from blenders, which contain sharp blades and typically operate at higher speeds, that chop, liquefy, or otherwise break down larger food items.
There are four main types of mixers:
As the name implies, a hand mixer is a hand-held mixing device. Modern electrical designs tend to consist of a handle mounted over a large enclosure containing the motor. The motor drives one or two beaters which are immersed in the food and perform the mixing action. More traditional, non-electrical designs tend to consist of a handle with a hand-operated crank on the side which are geared to two beaters. The user grips the handle with one hand and operates the crank with the other, creating the mixing action.
The design of a stand mixer is very similar to that of a hand mixer, but is mounted on a stand which bears the weight of the device. Stand mixers are larger and have more powerful motors than their hand-held counterparts. They generally have a special bowl that is locked in place while the mixer is operating. Heavy duty commercial models can have bowl capacities well in excess of 100 quarts (95 L) and weigh thousands of pounds, but more typical home and light commercial models are equipped with bowls of around 4 quarts (4 L). A typical home stand mixer will include a wire whip for whipping creams and egg whites; a flat beater for mixing batters; and a dough hook for kneading.
Stand mixers are generally available in either countertop (also called bench) or floor models. Whether a mixer is a countertop or floor model usually depends on its size. Mixers that are 20 Quarts in size or smaller tend to be countertop mixers, while larger mixers tend to be floor models due to their size and weight. The two major types of stand mixers are planetary (vertical) and spiral, each of which is described below.
Spiral mixers are specialist tools for mixing dough and are unsuitable for whipping or mixing other ingredients. A spiral-shaped agitator remains stationary while the bowl rotates. This method enables spiral mixers to mix the same size dough batch much quicker and with less under-mixed dough than a similarly powered planetary mixer. Spiral mixers can mix dough with less agitator friction than planetary mixers, allowing the dough to be mixed without a large increase in temperature, ensuring the dough can rise properly.
Planetary mixers consist of a bowl and an agitator. The bowl remains static, whilst the agitator is rapidly moved around the bowl to mix its contents. With the ability to mix a wide variety of ingredients, planetary mixers are considered to be more versatile than their spiral counterparts. Planetary mixers can also be used to whip and blend, whereas spiral mixers cannot.
The first egg beater with rotating parts was patented in 1856 by Baltimore, Maryland tinner Ralph Collier. U.S. Patent 16,267 This was followed by E.P. Griffith's whisk patented in England in 1857. Another hand-turned rotary egg beater was patented by J.F. and E.P. Monroe in 1859 in the US. U.S. Patent 23,694 Theirs was the earliest egg beater patent bought up by the Dover Stamping Company, whose Dover egg beaters became a classic American brand. The Monroe design was also manufactured in England. In 1870, Turner Williams of Providence, R.I., invented another Dover egg beater model. U.S. Patent 103,811
The first mixer with electric motor is thought to be the one invented by American Rufus Eastman in 1885. U.S. Patent 330,829  The Hobart Manufacturing Company was an early manufacturer of large commercial mixers, and they say a new model introduced in 1914 played a key role in the mixer part of their business. The Hobart KitchenAid and Sunbeam Mixmaster (first produced 1910) were two very early US brands of electric mixer. Domestic electric mixers were rarely used before the 1920s, when they were adopted more widely for home use.
Older models of mixers originally listed each speed by name of operation (ex: Beat-Whip would be high speed if it is a 3-speed mixer); they are now listed by number.