Don’t you find it annoying that just as you’re about to fire up your old backyard open grill to whip up your favorite grilled steak and potatoes, it would start to drizzle? That’s exactly what George Stephen felt in 1951, when tired of burning his steaks in flare-ups in his old backyard open brick grill that is exposed to wind and rain he invented the first Weber kettle grill.
Looking for a solution to his grilling problem posed no problem for Stephen, as he was part owner of the Weber Brothers Metal Works that manufactured metal half spheres that were welded together to make buoys for Lake Michigan. Using two of these spheres, he made his prototype Weber kettle grill that had a circular fire pan and a matching round ventilated lid to control smoke and flare-ups. It worked so well that Stephen’s neighbors asked him to fabricate one for them, too. In no time at all, the Weber kettle grill was selling like hotcakes and by 1958 Stephen bought out the company, which he renamed Weber-Stephen Products.
In 1959, Stephen went on an aggressive marketing campaign and hired Ed Schaper, a printing salesman to help him promote his product in supermarkets and wholesalers. By the 1960s, the Weber kettle grill was leading the market in the Midwest, particularly in Chicago and Milwaukee. They got their biggest break during a sausage festival in Wisconsin where grill makers showcased their products. A sudden downpour shut down all the competitors who had open grills except for the Weber kettle grill whose lid protected the grilling sausages from the wind and rain.
When cheaper foreign brands entered the market, other competing brands were compelled to bring down their prices by lowering the specifications of their raw materials such as metal sheets which are less durable. Following his gut feel, Stephen did not follow the band wagon, but instead, maintained and even upgraded the specifications of his Weber kettle grill as well as his whole product line. He rightly reasoned that there is big potential in the upscale American market and the rising middle class which is increasingly becoming interested in more sophisticated food such as grilled steaks and seafoods rather than the traditional weekend hotdogs and hamburgers served hot off the grill.
Though pricey in its category, the Weber kettle grill leads the pack in the charcoal fueled grill market. Today, the word “weber” alone has become synonymous to durability, elegance in design and American innovation.