Chapter Two

How the Stomacher® got its name – and took over the world by Dr. Anthony N. Sharpe

Within a day I had also coined the name Stomacher®. Well, the paddle action is a bit like peristalsis. It’s worth noting that my first choice was “Gizzard”, which was rejected! This was based on the fact that the Gizzard is a muscular part of a bird’s digestive tract, where food is ground down with small stones the bird deliberately swallows. So, again, some similarity to the Stomacher® process.

A few days later we demonstrated it to Unilever Divisional Manager Dr. Doug Georgala. I handed him a bag of stomached peas – he took hold of the wrong corners, and the contents went all over his business suit! Thankfully he saw the funny side and the Stomacher® survived its first encounter with management.

We quickly got three prototypes designed and built in the Colworth workshop, in sizes chosen to handle 80, 400 and 3,000 mL, volumes we thought would be useful to labs. The bag’s weight in the 3,000mL was a concern, so we fitted in a doubled-up rubber sheet to support these bags. My idea to trap bags was a crude screw clamp, but PEP (Precision Engineering Products Ltd mentioned below) introduced the familiar toggle lever, which was a great improvement.

We made these early Stomachers for a few of the Unilever labs. I quickly felt there could be a good market if it were made commercially, but there seemed little enthusiasm. We were told “Unilever is not a scientific instrument company”. However, Unilever had recently acquired the Thames Board Mills conglomerate and with it, the small engineering company Precision Engineering Products Ltd (PEP) based in Bury St. Edmunds. PEP’s Chairman, Ivor Cooper and Chief Engineer, Frank Vout were instantly keen on the Stomacher® and got it developed into a nice-looking laboratory item.

It turned out that Unilever even had a company (Seward Medical Ltd – part of the recently dismantled United Africa Company) capable of selling a scientific instrument. John Joyce, Chairman of Seward, liked the idea and put Don Skinner (who had just returned from a tour in UAC) on to marketing it, which turned out to be an excellent decision.

They worried about the name “Stomacher®”, but we had a big meeting at which nobody came up with anything better! With adverts, scientific papers, and exhibitions such as Labex, the Stomacher® (plus some other apparatus from my lab, now defunct) was soon well on its way to market. Despite a few protests about the name along the lines of “I would never buy an instrument with a name like that!”, Unilever labs and many thousands of others ended up buying the Stomacher® paddle blender and its legacy lives on.

early Stomacher models 1970s exhibition
early Stomacher models 1980s exhibition