People tend to use the terms "Crock Pot" and "slow cookers" interchangeably, but they are not, in fact, interchangeable. While all Crock Pots are slow cookers, not all slow cookers are Crock Pots. Crock Pots are to slow cookers as Kleenex are to tissues, or Band-Aids are to bandages. Crock Pot is a brand name.
Don't get too disappointed. Just because the Crock Pot is a brand doesn't mean it doesn't have an interesting backstory. In fact, the Crock Pot's story is rooted in Jewish mothers and beans. The device was inspired by a dish the inventor's mother told him about. From a humble bowl of bean stew grew a kitchenware empire. Here's the story:
According to CNET Magazine, an inventor by the name of Irving Naxon applied for a patent for a food heating device in 1936. His device consisted of an insert, held up by a case that held a heating device, which facilitated even heating of food inside the insert. The device was also portable.
By 1940, Naxon got his patent for the device he called the Naxon Beanery, and he says his Lithuanian mother, Tamara Kaslovski Nachumsohn, inspired him. Naxon's mother had told him stories about a bean-based stew she used to make in her village bakery at home in Lithuania. The stew, known as cholent, is a traditional Jewish dish that cooks all day. It's rooted in the Jewish Sabbath, the day of rest in which observant Jews aren't supposed to do any work. The stew is supposed to go on the heat before sundown Friday night, when the Sabbath begins, and cook all the way until the end of Saturday services the next day. Naxon's daughter told NPR that, "as the ovens were turned off for the Sabbath, the pot of cholent would be put in the oven, and that slow residual heat over the course of the 24 hours would be enough to cook the cholent."
In the early 1970s, Naxon sold his design to Rival Manufacturing, who rebranded his Beanery and put it on the market as the Crock Pot. It was marketed toward working mothers who could put food in the pot before leaving for the office and come home to a cooked meal; the Crock Pot sold millions through the '70s. The Crock Pot "cooks all day while the cook's away," a 1976 advertisement said, the LA Times reports. Sales died down a little in the '80s, perhaps coinciding with the rise of the microwave, CNet Magazine speculates.
Today, however, slow cooking is as popular as ever, as 83 percent of families owned a slow cooker in 2011, according to Consumer Reports. The original Crock Pot design has changed little over the years, but now the insert is removable, a major improvement.
While the Crock Pot may indeed have been the original slow cooker, as it advertises, it's not the only one on the market. So, next time someone refers to all slow cookers as "Crock Pots," you can remind them not all slow cookers are Crock Pots, just like not all cotton swabs are Q-Tips, not all flying discs are Frisbees and not all tape is Scotch. But you knew all that already.