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George Stephen, Company Founder and Inventor of the Weber Kettle Grill
Because of his humble nature, chances are that when George Stephen Sr. invented “George’s Barbecue Kettle” from the metal shapes Weber Brothers Metal Works was forming to make a buoy, he never dreamed the grill would eventually become the icon for the American Backyard Barbecue.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, Stephen worked for Weber Brothers Metal Works, which was managed by his father. There, he gained experience in shaping and fabricating metal parts, and he also sold the company’s services. An avid barbecuer, he became increasingly frustrated with the uneven and uncontrollable flame of his open brazier grill at his Mount Prospect, Illinois home.In the quest for a better grill, he built a large brick grill with heavy metal grates, but that didn’t work any better. While at work, his grilling experience merged with his skills as a metal worker.
“We were making dome shapes at the shop,” Stephen once said. “I took one of the domes, drilled some holes in the bottom and lid, welded supports to hold two wire grates, and gave my strange looking kettle-shaped grill a try.It worked great.”
Because the grill became so successful after he began selling it in 1952, Stephen formed the barbecue division of the Weber Brothers factory. By the late 1950s, he bought out the company and became the sole owner—devoting all his professional time to manufacturing and selling the Weber kettle. Soon thereafter, Stephen changed the company’s name to Weber-Stephen Products Co.
Stephen was always fond of pointing out that his company was a family business. Today, 10 of his 12 children—and two of his grandchildren—have important roles within the company. His wife, Marge Stephen—having a blended sense of the company’s legacy with its vision for the future—is the company’s board chairwoman.
George Stephen Sr. passed away in 1993 at the age of 71. Yet, his commitment to quality and his love for the perfect grilling experience have a strong presence at Weber’s corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility in Palatine, Illinois. Within the sprawling building sits the main conference room—converted several years ago from Stephen’s office to the central meeting ground for Weber staff. A neon “Big G” sign hangs over the door. Inside, the room is stuffed with an eclectic and historical mix of Stephen’s sports memorabilia; family, friend, and company photographs; sailing paraphernalia; gag gifts from his sales force; and an endless number of plaques with humorous sayings. One of those plaques distinctly stands out among the others: “God is Watching, So Give Him a Good Show.”