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At Smithsonian, Michelle Delgado digs into the history of the beloved crockpot, the staple of potlucks, holiday dinners, and hastily prepared weeknight feasts. If you’ve ever come home from a long day at work to the wonderful smell of dinner waiting in your crockpot, you have Irving Nachumsohn to thank.

The Crock Pot’s story began during the 19th century in Vilna, a Jewish neighborhood in the city of Vilnius, Lithuania. Once known as the “Jerusalem of the North,” Vilna attracted a thriving community of writers and academics. There, Jewish families anticipated the Sabbath by preparing a stew of meat, beans and vegetables on Fridays before nightfall. Ingredients in place, people took their crocks to their towns’ bakeries—specifically, to the still-hot ovens that would slowly cool overnight. By morning, the low-and-slow residual heat would result in a stew known as cholent.

According to Nachumsohn’s daughter, Lenore, her father’s broad range of inventions is evidence of his curiosity and devotion to problem-solving. In their household, the slow cooker was a solution to summer heat, allowing the family to prepare meals without turning on the oven. Nachumsohn applied for the patent on May 21, 1936, and it was granted on January 23, 1940.

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