Sam Farber, Creator of Oxo Utensils, Dies at 88
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: June 21, 2013
Sam Farber, who was spurred by a fiend in the form of a vegetable peeler to start Oxo, the housewares manufacturer whose ergonomic rubber handles grace its kitchen utensils in many homes, died on Sunday in East Meadow, N.Y. He was 88.
The cause was complications of a recent fall, his son John said.
Oxo took root in the late 1980s, when Mr. Farber, ostensibly retired, and his wife, Betsey, were making an apple tart in their rented home in the south of France. Preparing the apples, Ms. Farber, who has mild arthritis in her hands, was exasperated by their unwieldy peeler, which she found painful to use.
Mr. Farber knew housewares — he had founded Copco, a maker of brightly colored enameled cast-iron cookware, in 1960 and run the company before selling it in 1982. He immediately discerned a gap in the market: kitchen devices that were as comfortable as they were functional, designed not only for cooks with hand problems but for all cooks.
With John Farber, the couple founded Oxo in Manhattan soon afterward. (Sam Farber chose the name for its backward, upside-down and vertical graphic symmetry.) Enlisting Smart Design, a New York industrial design concern, they created Oxo’s Good Grips line of kitchen tools.
Made with a spare, minimalist aesthetic in mind, the tools sported what would become the line’s distinctive hallmark: fat black handles of a soft plastic known as Santoprene, shaped and angled to be easy on the hand.
The line was unveiled in 1990 at the Gourmet Products Show in San Francisco. Though its prices left some commercial buyers skeptical at first — a Good Grips potato peeler cost about $6, compared with about $2 for a conventional peeler — it soon proved a hit with consumers.
The company’s products have won many design awards and are ubiquitous today in hardware and housewares stores and in chain retailers like Target and Kmart.
Mr. Farber sold Oxo to the General Housewares Corporation in 1992. His later ventures included creating a line of kitchenware with his son John for the celebrity chef Mario Batali.
Samuel Farber was born in Manhattan on Nov. 16, 1924, and reared in Yonkers. Pots and pans were in his pedigree: an uncle, Simon Farber, founded the cookware maker Farberware on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1900. His father, Louis, helped found Farber Brothers, makers of glass and silver-plated serving ware.
During World War II, Mr. Farber served with the Army Air Forces in Turkey and North Africa. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard in 1946 and later joined his father’s business.
Mr. Farber, who lectured frequently about industrial design and received many awards in the field, was also a major collector of outsider art, including work by Henry Darger and Martín Ramírez.
As a board member of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, he helped secure the architectural firm Tod Williams, Billie Tsien & Associates to design the museum’s former home on West 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
Opened in 2001 and widely praised by critics, the building is now owned by its neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art.
Mr. Farber’s first marriage, to Joan Levine, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, the former Betsey Wells Kriegsman, whom he married in 1985, survivors include two sons from his first marriage, John and Thomas; two stepchildren, Mark Kriegsman and Sue Kriegsman; four granddaughters; and three step-granddaughters.
A longtime resident of Manhattan, Mr. Farber lived most recently in Lexington, Mass.
Today, Oxo is owned by Helen of Troy, a maker of personal care products. Its Good Grips line now comprises hundreds of items, including cleaning, gardening and barbecue tools.
All for the want of a painless peeler a quarter-century ago.
“It’s hard to think of a vegetable peeler as radical,” Mr. Farber told The Los Angeles Times in 2000. “But I guess it was.”