Carrot Stick Slicing Machine


This unique carrot stick slicer is mounted on a table-height platform. It produced ready-to-eat carrot sticks in the 1960s and 70s, decades before the hugely successful “baby carrots” industry popularized carrots as a convenient snack food in the 1990s. It is a good example of an inventive, entrepreneurial, and small-scale method for partially automating the manufacture of a ready-to-eat food product in the exhibition, Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

In 1960 Joseph T. Listner formed Listner, Inc., a small company based on the idea of selling prepackaged, cleaned, and ready-to-eat vegetables. The product line centered on carrot sticks, but also included soup greens, dehydrated herbs, and sliced cabbage and carrot chips, called cole slaw, which were mostly packaged in clear polyethylene bags. Starting the small business with limited funds, Listner constructed much of his own equipment including the automated carrot slicer, conveyor belts, a refrigeration apparatus, and a dehydrator.

Previously, as a scientist and engineer, Listner held a position in a spectroscopy laboratory at the Bendix Corporation (1947-1954). According to his son, Chem, he left the company because he was “never happy working for someone” and wanted to pursue a different kind of business for himself. He began selling fresh chickens and later fresh French fries; the cut potatoes for the fries inspired the idea for producing fresh carrot sticks. While a manual slicer for carrots existed, Listner wanted to pursue a larger scale operation and wondered, “How can I make that work automatically?”

To create the automated slicer, Listner assembled five individual components into one device. Mounted on a steel workbench, the main components include an electric motor (110 - 120 volts), gear reducer with pulley, a steel arm, and the slicer with stainless steel blades. He designed the slicer to quickly produce substantial volumes of carrot sticks with minimal down time. Although originally designed to slice one carrot at a time before stopping, the machine’s micro switch could be disabled to allow the machine to run continuously to increase production.

The company’s main customer was the Grand Union Supermarket chain, which had over 200 stores at the time, mostly in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. The upscale chain learned about the carrot sticks from Listner prior to 1960, when he took samples to the store to determine Grand Union’s interest in selling his products. With a positive response, he incorporated his business in Wallington, New Jersey. Loyal customers followed, and despite interest among store managers in how he produced such a uniform product, Listner was never interested in sharing information about his operations or patenting his inventions.

Listner, Inc. remained active for 16 years and employed 15 to 20 people at a time, including Listner’s wife Helen, daughter Beverly, and son Chem, among other local workers. In the production of the carrot sticks, while the slicing was automated, the carrots still had to be hand-peeled and trimmed. Other tasks for workers at Listner, Inc. included weighing the carrots, filling bags, and then sealing the bags with a heat-sealer.

When the aging Listner and his employees were unable to keep up with the demands of the business, he decided to cease operations rather than sell the company and, in the words of his son Chem, “risk tarnishing his stellar reputation for quality.” He closed the business in 1976 after 16 years of operation and slicing an estimated 500 tons (1 million pounds) of carrots.

In his retirement, Joseph T. Listner continued tinkering, and turned primarily to hydroponics or the soilless growth of plants, a hobby he started back in the 1950s. Local newspapers documented his successes with tomatoes, light technology he developed to grow plants, and growing stands he produced for both commercial and home use. Mr. Listner passed away in 1990 at the age of 72.

Date Made: late 1950s

Maker: Listner, Joseph T.

Place Made: United States: New Jersey, Wallington

See more items in: Work and Industry: Food Technology, Food, FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

Exhibition: Food: Transforming the American Table

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Credit Line: Gift of Chem J. Listner

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2011.0222.01Catalog Number: 2011.0222.01Accession Number: 2011.0222

Object Name: carrot stick slicing machine

Measurements: overall: 34 in x 48 in x 23 in; 86.36 cm x 121.92 cm x 58.42 cm


Record Id: nmah_1411796

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