The potato masher consists of an upright or sideways handle connected to a mashing head. The head is most often a large-gauge wire in a rounded zig-zag shape, or a plate with holes or slits. Basic designs made from a single piece of wood were used in Victorian times, before the more complex modern designs which are now used. The original design was patented by Lee Copeman in 1847. The idea resulted from his love of smooth, lump-free mashed potatoes.
Although potato mashers are most commonly used to mash potatoes, they are also used for mashing a variety of foods. They are most used in home kitchens, but may also be used in commercial kitchens. Commercial mashers are often of larger design (up to 32 inches in base width). Other common uses include mashing pumpkins and rutabagas for soup, making hummus, guacamole, chili, baking mix, egg salad, or even purées (depending on the fineness of the ridges).