Everyday Icons: The REX, King of Potato Peelers

by Clara Jannet

March 9, 2021

You most definitely have a REX potato peeler in your kitchen drawer. It's the one with an aluminum U-shaped handle with perfectly placed indents for your thumb and forefinger. Practical and modest, you might never guess that your potato peeler is a Swiss design icon. Well, it is.

In 2004, the REX appeared on a Swiss postage stamp and is found in many permanent collections of design museums across the world: Galerie Nationale du Grand Palais in Paris, New York’s MoMA, and the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich to mention a few.

In the early 1930s, long before “start-ups” were a thing and decades before Silicon Valley elated the status of garage-born companies, a man in Zurich by the name of Alfred Neweczerzal started making small kitchen tools in his basement. Originally producing mayonnaise and cream whippers, the founder began producing the famous vegetable peeler in the mid-1940s, patenting it in 1947. He created a company called Zena that was family-owned and run until last year, when it was bought by Victorinox, maker of another Swiss design icon (stay tuned!).

Since its conception, more than 70 million peelers have been sold in Switzerland and abroad, more than one million per year. All are produced in Switzerland by only 11 employees.

Adhering to established codes of Swiss design, the REX presents a minimalist and utilitarian design: a 13mm wide U-shaped bent stripe of aluminum is attached to a pivoted sharp tempered steel blade, a single sheet of steel that has two cutting faces so it can be used either way up. A spacer runs parallel to the movable horizontal blade head to ensure optimal economy. If you are wondering what the protruding little U is on the upper top side, it’s a side knife for cutting out eyes of potatoes (you can thank me later). The entire peeler is made from six simple parts, weighs in at only 20 grams and unlike many kitchen tools can be used by both right and left handers.

The REX is ideally suited to peel vegetables and fruits, but also to grate chocolate and hard cheese. For those of you who de-scale fish, you can supposedly do so by using the peeler in reverse, with the end part of the U.

One of the words for peeler in French is “econome”, from the Greek Oikonomos, or economy. This refers to the fact that peelers are generally made with inexpensive raw materials, that they help to remove only the strict minimum of the fruits and vegetables (leaving more to eat), and that they are cheap to buy. Indeed, the price of the REX, much like its design, has barely changed since 1947.

So run and buy your very own Swiss design icon today for a mere 1.95.- at your local store!