Arts & Crafts Kitchens The Birth of the Modern Kitchen
When we first started building kitchens many years ago, no one wanted an Arts & Crafts look. They wanted to replace their Arts & Crafts kitchen with something "modern". We spent hours talking Bungalow owners out of colonial-style and country kitchens – then all the rage.
The Evolution of the Arts & Crafts Kitchen
Of course, what we now call the Arts & Crafts kitchen is actually a modern interpretation – the invention of contemporary kitchen designers applying Arts & Crafts design elements and features to modern kitchens. No such kitchens existed during the actual Arts & Crafts era if for no other reason than much of the technology we take for granted now did not exist then.
It had conveniences never before seen in a home kitchen. Indoor plumbing, the premier innovation of the Victorian Age, allowed water to be brought into the house. Gone was the laborious process of hauling water in buckets for cooking and washing up.
But, one important technology was missing in Victorian kitchens: electricity.
Only the very wealthy had it before 1900 (using household generators). But a scant thirty years later it was available to almost everyone in urban areas at the flick of a switch. Electricity made possible the modern kitchen of the late Arts & Crafts period, differing only in fairly minor details from the kitchen of today.
Social, Cultural, and Technological Influences on the Arts & Crafts Kitchen
kitchens of the early part of the Arts & Crafts period rarely had built-in cabinetry. There was very little need for extensive storage. Most food was grown or produced locally and purchased fresh daily. The milkman delivered fresh milk, the butcher provided cuts of meat to order, the greengrocer fresh vegetables to supplement whatever was growing in the back garden. Very little food needed to be stored. The little storage that existed was devoted to kitchen implements and possibly dinnerware.
But, things were beginning to change. A number of distinct trends converged during the first half of the 20th century that radically altered the American diet and the American kitchen.
Electricity led to home refrigeration and powered appliances that had enormous influence on kitchen work and on how kitchens were outfitted and organized. Commercial refrigeration that allowed fresh food to be transported across the country and safely stored for days and weeks radically changed the Amerian diet, food preparation, and kitchen storage needs.
Food safety laws starting in 1906 with the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, helped ensure that processed foods were safe for the first time in American history and resulted in a growing abundance of easy-to-prepare foods that not only reduced a homemaker's time in the kitchen but enabled her to provide healthier and less expensive meals for her family.
All of these sometimes tidal changes had their impact on the design and organization of home kitchen so that, by the end of the Arts & Crafts period, kitchens that were recognizably modern had come into being, preparing for the avalanche of state-of-the-art kitchens that were a feature of the post-war housing boom.
Health and Sanitation
The flu pandemic of 1918-19 on top of the adulterated and impure food scandals Note 1 of the late 1800s and early 20th century badly frightened the country and a created a national clamor for better health and sanitation. The movement was, as many trends have been both before and after, co-opted by merchandisers and fueled by widespread product advertising.
Like today's passion for all things "green", in the 1920s and '30s, it was everything "hygienic".
All manner of products were suddenly "cleaner", "healthier", "more sanitary" and even "sterile"; or at very least "polished", "sparkling" or "gleaming". Listerine was essential for clean breath, and Johnson Wax for sanitary floors – which were not really clean unless they were "Spic 'n Span"®.
Warnings against the more odious personal habits, such as spitting on the sidewalk ("You cannot expect to rate if you expectorate!") appeared on trams, billboards, and posters alongside exhortations to weekly bathing, and daily teeth cleaning.
Spitoons (or more politely, cuspidors) disappeared from restaurants, bars, and hotel lobbies almost overnight. In 1890 they were everywhere, by 1910 they were quickly becoming curiosities.
Massive public works projects provided clean water to almost every city and town in North America and sanitary sewer systems made the flushing toilet a ubiquity rather than a novelty by 1900. Sanitary improvements continued throughout the Arts & Crafts period. By its end in 1941 rare was the urban household that did not have running water. Households in rural areas were quickly catching up due to New Deal programs that brought modern amenities to American farmers.
Harvey Wiley's Pure Food Laws
Food was a very big part of the health and hygiene movement, and the federal government's regulation of the nation's food supply played and still plays a pivotal role in ensuring safe and wholesome food.
The drive for safer food was already decades old by the turn of the 20th century, starting during the American Civil War when more soldiers on both sides were killed by tainted food than by enemy bullets.
It was given a boost with the appointment in 1893 of Harvey Washington Wiley as head chemist of the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Division of Chemistry (renamed the Bureau of Chemistry in 1901).
Wiley also used the "bully pulpit" afforded by the USDA's technical bulletins to inform the public about food adulteration and safety issues. He worked closely with state regulators, physicians, and pharmacists to generate support for a national food safety law. Thee son of a part-time preacher, Wiley was a gifted orator, and by regularly addressing women's groups and pure food rallies, he gained widespread support for his crusade against adulteration.
Other crusading writers including pure food advocate Alice Lakey, investigative journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams, researcher William Frear, and, to a lesser extent, Edward Bok, editor of Ladies' Home Journal, joined in the clamor for safer food loosely coordinated through national conventions like the National Pure Food and Drug Congresses in 1898 through 1900.
National women's magazines, such as Collier's Weekly, Woman's Home Companion, McCall's, and Good Housekeeping, aroused public opinion with cartoons, articles, and editorials.
Progressive women's organizations including the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), the militant Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the National Consumers League were vocal in their support of food safety. The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in elections was still decades in the future but they did have the right to vote with their purses – a right that they exercised liberally.
GFWC members were asked to
refuse to buy any canned product that is not distinctly labeled with the name of the manufacturer or for which the
local grocer will not give a guarantee of purity.
Group actions were also encouraged. The confrontational WCTU organized members to closely monitor food merchants and report violators of state pure food laws. The more genteel GFWC established innocent-sounding "visiting committees" charged with persuading merchants to stock only properly labeled, unadulterated foods. Where lady-like persuasion did not work, uncooperative retailers faced mass boycotts and picketing.
But, it took the Upton Sinclair's shocking revelations of the unsafe and unsanitary practices in the meatpacking industry in his novel, The Jungle, published in 1905 to tip the balance in favor of national food safety laws. The result was the swift passage by a laggard Congress of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in 1906. The statutes were widely referred to in the popular press as "Harvey Wiley's Laws".
The new laws prohibited "interstate and foreign commerce in adulterated and mislabeled food…" A product in violation could be confiscated and the seller fined or imprisoned. Adulteration was defined to include the "removal of valuable constituents from food", the substitution of ingredients that reduced quality, and the addition of "deleterious ingredients" including spoiled animal and vegetable products. Misleading, deceptive or false labeling was considered "misbranding."
Later amendments to the act made corporate executives personally liable for any adulteration of food products, even if they did not know about them on the legal theory of "willful ignorance", that is, if they did not know, they should have.
The Bureau of Chemistry , later recast as the semi-autonomous Food and Drug Administration, grew to a staff of 630 by 1924, half of whom were chemists, bacteriologists, microscopists, engineers, and food safety inspectors.
Charged with the Herculean task of ensuring the safety of the nation's food supply, the Bureau did so vigorously. There had already been 12,000 seizures and prosecutions by 1924, and it quickly became clear to all concerned that there was a new sheriff in town who was not kidding even a little bit about food safety.
Even, popular consumer products felt the weight of the new law. Coca-Cola's president, Asa Griggs Candler, having seen the writing on the wall, had already banished cocaine (the "coca" in Coca-Cola) from its soft drink formula but Harvey Wiley's chemists found massive quantities of cafeine in the beverage which they considered a dangerous and habit-forming adulterant in a drink advertised and sold to children. Wiley wanted Coke to remove the caffeine.
Wiley made his point unmistakable by ordering U.S. marshals to seize a batch of Coke syrup, which resulted in a lawsuit quaintly entitled U.S. vs. 40 Barrels and 20 Kegs of Coca-Cola that ended up in the Supreme Court in 1916. Coke argued that cafeine was not an "additive". It had aloways been an ingredient in Coke and was, therefore, not an "added" ingredient. The opinion written by Justice Charles Evans Hughes Sr. for a unanimous court (less one abstension), disagreed and returned the case the the lower court for retrial.
In the mean time, however, Asa Candler had died and his less obdurate son, Charles, now the head of the company, offered to settle the lawsuit by reimbursing all of the Government's expenses of litigation and reducing the amount of cafeine in its product to a level acceptable to the Government.
Today's Coke still contains cafeine. Cafeine-free Code was not introduced until 70 years later in 1983 when Coke was forced to market a cafeine-free product to compete with its arch-rival's Pepsi Free. Then, in 1985 the company's introduced New Coke with vastly reduced cafeine. It nearly caused rioting. Coke quickly reverted to its original cafeine-rich formula.
Wiley resigned from the Department of Agriculture in 1912 and went to work for Good Housekeeping Magazine as its director of the Bureau of Foods, Sanitation, and Health.. He remained at the magazine for the next 18 years. Only foods tested in the magazine's state-or-the-art laboratory and earning its Seal of Approval were permitted to advertise in the magazine. The Good Housekeeping Seal became one of the most imporant consumer guides to safe and wholesome food throughout most of the 20th century.
Legislation to combat this product dilution was passed by Congress in 1930 permitting the FDA to establish food standards and require any product that did not meet the standards to carry a conspicuous warning label that identified the product as "Below U.S. Standard but not Illegal". All such products soon disappeared or were reformulated or re-labeled to meet FDA requirements.
History proved Henry Heinz totally right: pure food was indeed good business. Following national food safety laws, consumer confidence in processed foods increased dramatically and people began buying a lot more of them. This, in turn, encouraged the food industry to introduce an ever-increasing number and variety of processed and prepared foods.
By the eve of the U.S. entry into the World War in 1941 almost all of the major food brands familiar to us today were already on grocery shelves, and many are now well into their second century. (See ,Familiar Foods From the Arts & Crafts Era on this page.)
The overall effect was nothing less than a food revolution – one that radically changed the American diet in the span of less than a generation – and which continues yet today. The foods available to Americans were no longer limited to what happened to be in season locally. Packaged, canned, and (after 1930) frozen foods made wholesome, nutritious meals almost universally available.
Exotic foods – many virtually unknown in the U.S. a scant decade earlier such as apricots, artichokes, mangos, pineapple, and canned tuna – became commonplace at the corner grocery and available year 'round.
In 1900 over 90% of the food consumed in the U.S. was locally produced. By 1941 the proportion of the American diet that was locally grown had dropped below 20% in urban areas.
Indoor plumbing was the transformational technology that created the first modern bathroom by bringing it indoors during the Victorian period. In the Arts & Crafts age, it was universal electricity that made possible the modern kitchen.
In 1897 electric street lights illuminated Wall Street. By 1900 a few major cities could boast electricity but by 1940 all but the most remote areas were electrified. The New Deal extended this modern luxury to America's rural marches. The Rural Electric Administration (REA) had brought electric power to over 33% of the nation's farms by 1941. Electricity powered lights, fans and, most importantly for food safety: refrigerators.
The original home refrigerator was simply an insulated box that held a block of ice that was used to keep food cool. It began to appear in the nation's homes in the 1850s, and was, as would be expected of a Victorian device, a very ornate ash or oak cabinet lined with tin, zinc or porcelain.
Iceboxes worked very well. Warm air rises, so a block of ice placed in a compartment at the top of the box absorbed heat from warm air, cooling it. The now heavier cool air fell to the food compartments below, where, once again warmed as it absorbed heat from food, it rose back to the top of the box to again be cooled by the ice. The melting ice also produced moisture that helped keep fresh food crisp. Meat and other foods that needed to be kept very cold were stored on the bottom shelf where the very cold air accumulated.
But, while ice as a cooling medium worked well, it was not very convenient. It melted and because it melted waste water had to be disposed of at least once each day and the ice had to be replaced every day or two.
Ice was delivered in 50 or 100 lb. blocks by the leather-aproned iceman in his horse-drawn insulated ice wagon. Quite often the icebox was built into an exterior wall with a door that opened to the outside so the ice-man could replace the ice without disturbing the household, or tracking water through the house.
Mechanical refrigeration had been invented in the 1840s but the machinery was large and sometimes dangerous, not suitable for home use. One of its first commercial applications, however, was to make the ice that went into home iceboxes. Before "artificial ice", natural ice had been harvested from frozen lakes and rivers and stored in insulated warehouses.
Artificial ice was better if only because it did not contain dead vegetation, fish, and tadpoles that were a common feature of natural ice. Large ice-making plants were common even in smaller cities by 1900.
Small, mechanical ice makers suitable for use in the home arrived in 1910. They were retrofitted to existing iceboxes not to replace ice but to provide supplemental cooling that made the block of ice last longer. Magazines like Popular Mechanics advertised kits that enabled handy homeowners to convert their iceboxes to supplemental electric cooling.
The cooling mechanism used an electric or natural gas compressor motor attached to the top of the box. This compressor-on-top arrangement was adopted by General Electric for its "Monitor Top" Note 2, the first widely accepted home refrigerator introduced in 1925.
One million Monitors were sold by 1931 for $230.00 each. This might seem cheap to 21st-century pocketbooks. It wasn't. In today's inflated dollars it would be about $3,700. A Ford Model A Roadster cost just a few dollars more, so early refrigerators were definitely a luxury purchase.
Competition drove the cost down quickly, however. By 1933 the price was just under a hundred dollars for the innovative Crosley Shelvador refrigerator (with shelves in the door). In 1940, according to a federal government report published at the time, a full-size refrigerator sold for an average of under $50.00, a price affordable to most.
In 1930 just 8% of U.S. households owned an electric refrigerator. By 1935, refrigerator sales had risen to 1.6 million per year. Mechanical refrigeration was a fixture in 44% of American kitchens by 1941 and shortly after the War, in 1946, electric refrigerators became universal in new housing.
It did not take long for competitors to challenge GE's early hegemony. Electrolux, Frigidaire , Hotpoint, Kelvinator, Leonard, Majestic, Maytag, Norge, Sears, and Westinghouse battled GE and each other by introducing improvements, new features, and lower prices.
The Kelvinator Four refrigerator debuted in 1929 with a flat top. Its cabinet and compressor were cleanly encased in a simple white enameled steel box. This much quieter and more sanitary design became the model for all future home refrigerators. Even GE capitualted in 1933 with its own flat top design by Henry Dreyfuss, the most prominant industrial designer of the age.
As the century progressed, the early two-ice-tray freezer compartment grew large enough to hold frozen foods and ice cream, which greatly boosted sales of pre-packaged ice cream at the grocery but put most corner ice cream parlors out of business by 1941.
The original coolant was sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas but one that smells so vile you would have plenty of time to escape after one whiff. Other early refrigerators used methyl chloride, also lethal but odorless.
By the middle of the 1930s, most companies had adopted Freon® R-12 (dichlorodifluoromethane), a stable non-toxic gas invented by a consortium of General Motors (owner of Frigidaire) and General Electric scientists in 1928 as a "safe" coolant. It turned out to be not so safe for the environment, however, and was outlawed in the 1970s because the chlorine in its formula depleted the ozone layer of the atmosphere.
The current refrigerant is HFC-134a (1,1,1,2-Tetrafluoroethane), which uses fluorine in place of chlorine and has no known adverse health or environmental effects.
By the late 1930s, Frigidaire dominated much of the home refrigeration market. The Frigidaire name became so closely associated with home refrigeration that it eventually became a part of the vernacular. In many places in the U.S., particularly in the Old South, a refrigerator is a "frigidaire" no matter who makes it, and an expression like "Sears frigidaire" made perfectly good sense to folks in Selma, even if it was a little befuddling to natives of Fargo.
Whatever Happened To…
Many of the best-known refrigerator manufacturers of the 1930s and '40s have disappeared. Where did they go?
- Kelvinator: The company introduced the first thermostat-controlled temperature-regulated refrigerator in 1918. It merged with White Consolidated Industries in 1968 and White was acquired by Electrolux in 1986. The brand is still used on commercial refrigerators but has abandoned the home appliance market.
- Coldspot: A Sears store brand, the refrigerators were made by a variety of manufacturers to specifications set by Sears. In 1977 Sears, then losing market share, replaced Coldspot with the more familiar Kenmore.
- Frigidaire is still a brand but no longer a company. It was absorbed by the giant Swedish appliance maker, AG Electrolux, in 1986 and is now just one of its many appliance brands acquired by that company. Whether an Electrolux-made refrigerator is branded a Frigidaire, Eureka, Gibson, Kelvenator or Bendix is less about differences in technology and more about what brand name will sell best in a particular market. During its glory years, however, Frigidaire pioneered the first commercially successful home freezer, the first room air conditioner, coordinated colors for appliances and the standard 30" kitchen range.
- Leonard: Founded in 1881 to make iceboxes, the company invented the "cleanable" refrigerator with removable metal shelves. It merged with Kelvinator in 1926 and the brand was phased out after Kelvinator became a part of Electrolux in 1986.
- Norge: Originally manufactured by the Norge Appliance Company, later a division of BorgWarner and after 1970 of Fedders which was purchased by Northland Corporation in 1978. The brand was replaced with Northland. Northland commercial and high-end home refrigerators are still widely sold but the Norge brand has been retired.
When and why did the "frige" in refrigerator become "fridge" with a "d"? No one seems to know.
Appliance manufacturers published pamphlets and booklets that showed housewives how to use the new electric devices, complete with recipes and hints on how to store leftovers. Many of these were packaged inside the new refrigerator. GE published The Silent Hostess Treasure Book (1930), Westinghouse The Refrigerator Book (1933), and Frigidaire Famous Dishes from Every State (1936).
Some companies also made special storage dishes for use in their refrigerators. GE, for example, made glass dishes with flat lids that could be easily stacked. They could also be used in the oven, making it simple to reheat leftovers.
Refrigerator purchases were encouraged by electrical utilities and the federal government. Under Title I of the National Housing Act of 1934, the government subsidized low-interest loans to homeowners looking to improve their houses and add modern conveniences. Local electric utilities, seeking more electricity customers, often sold large appliances at barely above cost; or stimulated their purchase with rebates and rate discounts.
By the eve of World War II, 44% of American homes, about 15 million households, had at least one mechanical refrigerator, and a growing number were equipped with a separate food freezer. The icebox was quickly becoming an interesting historical curiosity relegated to the very few parts of the country that did not yet have the convenience of electricity.
Even more important to the American diet, however, was the expansion of commercial refrigeration, especially refrigerated rail cars that permitted long-distance shipping of meats, seafood and produce.
The idea of shipping fruit and produce long distances by rail and ship using blocks of ice to preserve the perishable freight was already nearly a century old. It had been pioneered by Frederic Tudor in the 1820s (see: The Victorian Ice Age) and was by the turn of the 20th century a nationwide system of ice-making factories and icing stations alongside most mainline railroad tracks.
Refrigerated rail cars incorporating large ice bins or hoppers made importation of fresh foods from distant parts of the country reliable and safe.
The system was so efficient that mechanical refrigeration in rail cars did not gain a foothold until the 1950s when the refrigeration units became sufficiently cost-efficient to complete with ice as the preferred refrigerant.
Since 1941 the system has continued to expand and get faster. Long-distance shipping is the rule rather than the exception in our modern food system.
The Worldwatch Institute estimates that almost everything in the average Midwest Thanksgiving dinner except the turkey travels 2,500 miles from its source in California and New England. Over 85% of New Zealand's apple crop is sold in the U.S. – and travels 10,500 miles by ship and truck – nearly half-way around the world – to get to your neighborhood supermarket's produce section. You can get fresh Alaskan King crab in many Omaha restaurants today that was crawling around in the Bering Sea yesterday, having traveled nearly 4,000 miles overnight by FedEx.
The Convenience of Home Delivery
Ice remained the king of long-distance refrigeration throughout the Arts & Crafts era but mechanical refrigeration units quickly replaced ice just about everywhere else.
The milkman delivered not just milk and cream but many other products that needed to be chilled: eggs, cheese butter, yogurt, fruit juice, and sometimes soft drinks.
His daily rounds saved the busy homemaker the bother of a trip to the grocery for perishables. All she needed to do was display the milk card in her front window to order exactly what she needed that day.
Many period homes were equipped with a "milk door": a small door that opened directly onto the kitchen countertop where the milkman deposited his delivery. The milk door allowed safe deliveries even if the homemaker was absent.
The white-uniformed Good Humor Man in his jingling ice-cream wagon became an icon of American pop culture and a summer-day hero to every kid with a nickel in his pocket.
Originally priced at 10¢, the Popsicle was reshaped into a two-stick configuration that could be broken in half to share with a friend and reduced to 5¢ in 1930 – making it more affordable as a Depression-era treat.
The Popsicle Wars: Good Humor and Popsicle battled each other over frozen treats on a stick for most of 60 years. Good Humor wanted to offer a fruit treat, and Popsicle an ice cream bar. After a number of broken agreements and several lawsuits, Good Humor finally settled the matter by buying out Popsicle in 1999. Both brands are now owned by Unilever.
The suffix "...sicle": "Popsicle" is a registered trademark, part of a family of trademarks ending in "...Sicle" (Popsicle, Fudgesicke, Creamsicle), that has become part of the vernacular. The word popsicle is in common use in the U.S. and Canada to refer to any ice-pop product, not just the Popsicle brand.
The name's owner, Unilever, vigorously defends the name as applied to any frozen product on a stick but is permissive about its use otherwise.
We can safely write about a "popsicle stick" or "home-made popsicle" without getting the attention of Unilever but if you introduce a frozen food product with the suffix "...sicle" in the name, you are going to get a "friendly" note from Unilever followed by a lawsuit for infringement if you don't change the name double-quick.
The Popsicle Stick: Almost as famous as the frozen treat itself is the stick used to hold it. Originally made of flexible birch, now basswood, it was quickly discovered that the sticks made great material for hobby and crafts projects. It did not take long for popsicle sticks, without the Popsicles, to become available in bags for crafting.
Almost every boy of a certain age has made his share of popsicle stick log cabins, people, animals and projectile launchers of various kinds with which to annoy one's big sisters.
A nickel also bought that other summer day marvel – the Popsicle®.
A frozen fruit bar on a stick, Popsicles came in six wonderous flavors: cherry, lemon, orange, banana, grape, and watermelon.
The Amazing Piggly-Wiggly
Piggly-Wiggly®, America's first true self-service grocery store, opened in Memphis, Tenn. in 1916 with 605 1 different items offered for sale.
Self-service was a revolutionary idea. So revolutionary that Piggly-Wiggly founder, Clarence Saunders, patented the concept and sold franchises.
In grocery stores of the time, shoppers presented their orders to clerks behind a counter who gathered the goods from the store shelves. Saunders thought this a waste of both time and money since shoppers could gather things themselves more efficiently, eliminating the cost of clerks.
Self-service was an immediate success, including innovations such as,
- A marked price on every item,
- Shopping baskets (later rolling carts),
- Easily identifiable uniformed employees,
- Like-kind products grouped together in standardized locations making them easier to find in any Piggly-Wiggly store,
- Multiple brands of the same product, so shoppers would have a choice.
The new retail format forced national brands to pay more attention to product packaging so products would attract a shopper's eye. Before 1916 product packaging was fairly bland with simple black and white printed labels. After Piggly-Wiggly most major brands reworked their packaging into the distinctive and colorful containers with which we are familiar today2.
Why "Piggly-Wiggly"? No one seems to know.
In the 1930s it was reshaped into a two-stick configuration that could be broken in half to share with a friend (or a pesky little brother) – making it more affordable as a Depression-era treat.
Accidentally invented in 1905 by 11-year-old Frank Epperson who left a soda on the porch where it froze, it was not produced commercially until 1924 but was an instant hit with kids of all ages – and their parents.
In the summer of 1931 alone, when the Great Depression was nearly at its worst, it sold 200 million bars – an incredible 1-1/2 bars for every man, woman, and child living in the United States.
Birdseye's "Frosted" Foods
At the new supermarkets (see "The Amazing Piggly-Wiggly", above), freezers, cold rooms, and refrigerated displays meant that food could be kept fresh until it was sold, vastly reducing spoilage and waste. Glass-fronted self-service coolers and open-top freezers were in becoming common features of grocery stores by the 1930s.
Many were leased from Birds Eye frozen foods founded by Brooklyn-born inventor Clarence Birdseye, who developed a process of flash freezing food under pressure that, unlike earlier methods, did not alter the taste or texture of the product. Birds Eye "frosted" food products first appeared in grocery display cases in 1930.
Birdseye quickly realized that the major impediment to large-scale acceptance of his product was the high cost to grocers of buying frozen food cases, so he established a joint-venture company in 1934 to manufacture the cases and sell them to grocers under an affordable lease-purchase installment plan. By 1944, the company was also leasing refrigerated rail cars.
The frozen food process developed by Birdseye, according to the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office, resulted in 168 U.S. patents.
By the late 1920s, a well-organized, efficient kitchen had become the dream of every homemaker who saw the colorful ads for "modern" kitchens in the latest editions of the Ladies' Home Journal and House & Garden.
Those that still worked as household help were more costly than most middle-class households could afford. The "servants crisis" as it was called at the time, meant that a typical homemaker did most of the domestic chores herself, as well as watching the children and taking care of the garden. These added roles meant that it would not be possible to use most of the day preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals. In response, the Arts & Crafts housewife was quick to adopt almost any labor-saving device or practice that reduced her time in the kitchen.
The push for a better-organized life ("A place for everything, and everything in its place") started during Colonial times but peaked the Arts & Crafts period.
The Victorians made major contributions. The American Woman's Home, published in 1869, co-authored by sisters Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (of Uncle Tom's Cabin fame), was almost entirely devoted to the effective organization of household tasks and included an entire chapter on developing "Habits of System and Order" in household management.
Christine Frederick: Scientific Household Management
In 1912 Christine Frederick began a series of articles for the Ladies' Home Journal which explained the evolving principles of time and motion developed by industrial ergonomist Frederick Winslow Taylor, as they applied to domestic tasks.
Cheaper by the Dozen?
Lillian Moller Gilbreth was one of the first industrial efficiency experts to apply time and motion studies to the organization of daily activities in the home. With her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth (1868-1924), she was instrumental in the development of modern kitchen design, identifying the “work triangle” and linear kitchen layouts that are often used today.
She was one of the first female members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the recipient of the Hoover Prize in engineering and of 23 honorary degrees, and featured in Morgen Witzel's 2003 study, Fifty Key Figures in Management.
She is best remembered, however, as the beleaguered but unflappable mother of twelve featured in the best selling 1948 semi-biographical novel, Cheaper by the Dozen, written by two of her children. The book inspired two movies: one in 1950 starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, and the other in 2003 with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt.
Gilbreth died in 1972 at age 93, having survived her husband by nearly 50 years, and living long enough to see most of her "radical" notions about home efficiency and kitchen organization become basic design principles.
Subsequently re-published as a book, The New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management (.pdf courtesy Google Books), the chapter on kitchen organization and layout introduced basic kitchen organizing principles still in use today:
Frederick founded and directed a laboratory for conducting time and motion studies of domestic tasks and evaluating household equipment. She was not at all bashful about endorsing products that she thought were useful. She was, for example, a well-publicized consultant to the Hoosier Manufacturing Co. (See Hoosiers below).
Lillian Moller Gilbreth: The kitchen Triangle
She discovered that much of the time required for meal preparation involved moving among the three major work centers: sink, refrigerator (or icebox), and cookstove. If this movement could be minimized, she theorized, the time required to prepare a meal could be vastly decreased. Experiments proved her correct. They showed that a properly configured kitchen could reduce meal preparation time by as much as 70%.
Katharine A. Fisher: The Task-Centric Workplace
But, perhaps even more central to modern kitchen planning was the development by Katharine A. Fisher Note 3 of the concept of a task-centric workspace.
A director of the Good Housekeeping Institute, author, and columnist for Good Housekeeping Magazine, she wrote a series of widely read columns about kitchen efficiency beginning in 1924 in which she expanded Christine Frederick's ideas for arranging a kitchen by proposing that kitchen tasks be organized factory style, according to purpose and materials, and assigning each task to its own workstation. The basic workstations, food preparation, cooking and clean up would each have cabinets within easy reach that would hold all the implements and ingredients required to complete the task.
Her ideas about kitchen organization were incorporated into the magazine's aenormously influential cookbook, Good Meals and How to Prepare Them, published in 1927, which included Kitchen organizing tips scattered among the many Good Houskeeping-tested and -approved recipes for meals just as wholesome and tasty today as they were nearly 100 years ago.
The key to an efficient kitchen, she wrote, is ensuring that everything in "daily use" at each workstation should be "in sight" and right at hand. This meant, as far as possible, store the ingredients and utensils used at a workstation within easy reach of the station. If an implement is used in two different workstations, rather than waste time walking across the room to get it, buy two of them and store one at each station. It all seems very basic today but at the time the idea was transcendent, marking a major transformation in kitchen design theory.
The task-centric workplace is central to today's kitchen planning, although there is probably not one kitchen planner in a hundred who knows where this kitchen planning cornerstone originated.
Fisher Columns: You can read some of the original Fisher columns written for Good Housekeeping at the Purdue University On-Line Library.
Particularly interesting are the multiple columns on "Cookery", "Household Engineering" and "Dustless Sweeping". It is astounding how much of her 1920s common sense still applies today.
The idea of the kitchen-as-workplace took hold very quickly. Advertising in the 1920s had already begun to portray the home kitchen in industrial terms: as a "production center" for meals. Ads in popular magazines promoted labor-saving tools and devices as critical to "the business" of food preparation.
For more information on how to arrange task stations in a modern kitchen, see Mise-en-Place: What We Can Learn About kitchen Design from Commercial kitchens .
University research centers began studying household ergonomics, eventually leading to the establishment of the Small Homes Council to research housing issues at the University of Illinois in 1944 which, in turn, led to the first publication of The Kitchen Design Guidelines in 1949 and the Handbook of Kitchen Design in 1950.
Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky & The Frankfurt Kitchen
The Europeans, too, were developing new ideas for kitchen efficiency and organization, especially the Germans who in the mid-1920s were suffering through a critical working-class housing shortage. In 1926 Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) was commissioned to design an efficient small kitchen for a working-class apartment development in Frankfurt.
Borrowing ideas from Bauhaus designer Benita Koch-Otte, Christine Frederick (Frederick's book, The New Housekeeping had been published in Germany in 1922), and conducting her own time and motion studies, Schütte-Lihotzky designed a small, efficient, and ergonomic kitchen in the mere 6.5 square meters (70 sq/ft) allowed by the building architect.
Modeled loosely on a railroad dining car kitchen, it was devoted solely to meal preparation and cleanup, unlike prior German kitchens which were often multi-use spaces.
The kitchen had a window for natural light and ventilation and a food preparation center under the window, adjacent to a zinc undermounted sink with wall faucet. An adjusting stool on castors allowed a housewife to sit at a comfortable height while performing kitchen tasks and move between tasks by rolling the stool without standing up.
A track light in the ceiling could be moved to illuminate the various task centers in the kitchen as needed, and racks, shelves, and eighteen wood-fronted aluminum drawers provided sanitary storage. Oak was used for flour bins because the tannin in Oak repelled mealworms and beech for countertops because it resisted stains and knife damage.
The original was painted blue based the belief that sky colors repelled insects (a notion later proven mistaken, bugs are not quite that stupid). There was no refrigerator – thought to be an unnecessary luxury for the working class – but there was a built-in ironing board that folded up against the wall when not in use.
Ten thousand of Schütte-Lihotzky's kitchens were built in the 1920s, many destroyed by bombing during the world war of the 1940s, and many more discarded in 1960s and '70s modernizations.
Her concepts, however, survived. Her small, compact, efficient and task-oriented fitted kitchen became the standard, greatly influencing how kitchens were sized, organized and outfitted not just during the reconstruction of Europe but also in the U.S. during America's post-war housing boom of the 1950s and '60s.
During the World War, Ms. Schütte-Lihotzky joined the Austrian resistance against the German occupation but was almost immediately captured and imprisoned. She was liberated by the U.S. Army in 1945 and lived 55 more years, dying in 2000 at 102 years of age in the city of her birth, Vienna.
She lives on, however, in her kitchens. Reproduction Frankfurt kitchens are part of the permanent collections at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK) in Vienna and the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (MK&G) in Hamburg. It was also part of the "New Kitchen" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010 and 2011.
The Impact of Better Design on kitchen Work
Even though kitchen design for better organization and increased efficiency was in its infancy during the Arts & Crafts era, it had a dramatic impact on kitchen work. Meal preparation and cleanup, which required an average of 44 hours per week in 1900, had dropped to under 20 hours by 1941.
The full impact of this pioneering work on kitchen design was not felt, however, until after the Arts & Crafts period when small but very efficient kitchens became the norm in Post-War house plans.
Model kitchen designs were created by the Levitt brothers for their suburban Levittown developments. The compact and highly organized fitted kitchen in Levitt houses drew heavily on the research from the three prior decades and set the standard for much of post-war housing.
With sanitary Formica® laminated countertops, built-in easy-to-clean enamel-on-steel cabinets, an electric refrigerator with freezer and a clothes washing machine (with clothes dryer in later versions), all with a view of the kids playing in the backyard, the Levitt kitchens themselves were a minor revolution in design for optimized kitchen efficiency and widely copied.
For more information on the impact of developments during the Arts & Crafts period on post-war mid-century kitchens, see The Mid-Century Kitchen.
The time and effort required to prepare and clean up after meals have continued to decline. The weekly 20 hours required in 1941 has, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, dropped to 3.5 hours per week in 2011 – just 1/2 hour each day – and it is still falling — although how it can fall much further beggars the imagincation.
But, while improved organization and labor-saving technologies made major contributions to more efficient meal production, the biggest time- and work-saver of all were prepared foods.
Prepared and partially prepared foods were heavily promoted by the food industry for their "ease", "speed", "simplicity", and "efficiency". And, the truth is, they were every one of these, and due to the education and enforcement efforts of the Food and Drug Administration, also safe to eat for the first time in American history.
Fully or partially prepared foods often sliced meal preparation from hours to minutes. Busy housewives were quick to adopt these wonderful time-savers almost as soon as they appeared on grocery shelves.
One example is Bisquick, introduced by General Mills in 1931. The blend of Sesame oil (later powdered buttermilk), flour, salt, and baking soda eliminated the tedious process of measuring ingredients to make pastries and turned it into one easy step: add water, an egg or two and blend.
It took "90 seconds from package to oven," according to the slogan on the box, and made bakers out of nearly every homemaker – much to the dismay of commercial bakeries, 2/3rds of which were out of business by 1939.
According to General Mills' company lore, Carl Smith, a company executive, returning to San Francisco by train was impressed by a Pullman cook's biscuit mix that could be made up in advance and kept fresh for a long time in a cooler. He persuaded General Mills to develop a mix for home use that did not need chilling.
First marketed solely as a convenient and nearly foolproof way to make biscuits at home, company-sponsored recipes soon appeared in magazines and on Bisquick packages for hundreds of other delights, including pancakes, casseroles, dumplings, cobblers, cookies, and pastry crusts.
Homemakers were encouraged to submit their own favorite recipes to the Home Service Department of General Mills (later the Betty Crocker kitchen) for evaluation, and the best ones appeared on recipe cards and in various company-published cookbooks.
By the mid-1930s you could buy a set of Bisquick recipes from General Mills on convenient cards, complete with a handy and colorful metal box to put them in. By some estimates, there are now well over 10,000 published recipes featuring Bisquick as a main ingredient.
Kellogg's Corn Flakes was already a breakfast staple just a few years after its introduction in 1906 and Wheaties, endorsed by major sports figures of the period, became the "Breakfast of Champions" in 1928.
Dry processed cereal is still the basic American breakfast, and, unless eggs and bacon learn to cook themselves, it is not likely to be unseated any time soon.
The venerable soup pot simmering on the stove had almost completely disappeared from American kitchens by the 1920s, replaced by Campbell's condensed canned soups (three cans for 20¢ in 1930).
The process of condensing soups was invented in 1897 by Dr. John Thomas Dorrance, a chemist at the company who would later become its president.
Canned soups were thought to be healthier, and they certainly were much more convenient. Mix the contents with an equal amount of water or milk, heat and serve. M'm! m'm! good!
Campbell's familiar red and white label is over 120 years old and has remained substantially unchanged since it was introduced in 1898.
The Jolly Green Giant became the symbol of the Minnesota Valley Canning Company of Le Sueur, Minnesota in 1928 and its familiar, deep-throated, "ho-ho-ho" a radio staple in the 1930s.
Later renamed the Green Giant Company, Minnesota Valley Canning was an innovator in industrial canning, introducing among other products, Le Sueur very young small sweet peas and Niblets canned sweet corn. The brand is now owned by B & G Foods, Inc. of Parsippany, New Jersey. The Jolly Green Giant was one of the most recognizable brand icons of the 20th century, second only to Ronald McDonald.
Del Monte, the brand adopted by the California Fruit Canners Association, came to dominate much of the canned fruit market by the mid-1930s in no small part due to consumer confidence in California's very strict and vigorously enforced food quality and safety laws.
Company promotions convinced virtually every young post-war mother than no child could be truly healthy without several servings of Del Monte Fruit Cocktail every week.
Originally called Homel Spiced Ham, the name was almost immediately shortened to the catchier SPAM after an impromptu naming contest at a cocktail party that netted the winner $100.00. It is manufactured in Minnesota and in Fremont, Nebraska, which together turn out 44,000 cans an hour.
A blend of pork shoulder, ham, and seasonings, SPAM came packaged in a revolutionary rectangular vacuum can, ready to heat, slice and eat.
Its shelf life of up to seven years made it ideal for military field rations during World War II. Praised by military planners as the "Miracle Meat", SPAM was welcomed less enthusiastically by soldiers and Marines in the field who grew a little weary of SPAM for breakfast, lunch, and dinner nearly every day of the year.
Yet, its contribution to the Allied victory is undeniable. It fed not just Allied armies but civilian populations during and after the war, especially in the immediate post-war years when it was instrumental in averting mass starvation in war-devastated Europe and the U.S.-occupied Pacific islands of the former Japanese Empire.
SPAM had a loyal market in the U.S. after the World War. Many of the thirteen million returning war veterans discovered that they retained a taste for the military's often castigated "mystery meat", and provided Hormel with a massive consumer base for SPAM. It became one of the iconic foods of the post-War period, and SPAMwiches a staple of every workingman's lunch pail.
American Cheese Note 4 was also a smash hit with the buying public. Canadian-born James L. Kraft, seeking to improve the shelf life of cheese, patented a process in 1916 of adding sodium phosphate to re-pasteurized cheddar cheese. Canned, it could be kept on the shelf indefinitely.
The U.S. Army appropriated the new Kraft factory's entire production in 1917 to help feed the American Expeditionary Forces in France during the First World War. Six million American soldiers and Marines returned home from wartime service with a fondness for the canned cheese that had been issued as military rations and became a reliable market for Kraft's new cheese product. It was a huge commercial success and spearheaded the formation and growth of the giant Kraft Foods empire.
A modified form of American cheese, packaged in the familiar foil wrapper and yellow box, was christened Velveeta.
After Kraft bought Velveeta Cheese Company Note 5 in 1928, it discarded everything but the name. Velveeta was reformulated as a creamier version of American cheese that melted into a smooth sauce with a "velvety" texture.
The popularity of American processed cheese increased throughout the 1930s. Studies of consumer preference done at the end of that decade found that two-thirds of Americans preferred processed to natural cheese.Note 6
American cheese made the grilled cheese sandwich a North American institution, and a favorite of kids of all ages, "Granddad to two-year-olds" claimed a Kraft advertisement.
Despite today's consumer and industry focus on natural cheeses, which are believed by many to be healthier, American cheese remains firmly entrenched in American and Canadian culinary culture. By USDA estimates, American cheese still accounts for a full third of all cheese sold in the U.S.
In 1928 Gerber Products Company introduced its pre-cooked, pureed baby foods with "heat and eat" simplicity, eliminating the time-consuming and labor-intensive process of boiling, mashing and straining food for the baby.
Invented by cannery owner Daniel F. Gerber to feed his own baby, the strained, baby- and mother-friendly, fruits and vegetables (initially peas, prunes, carrots and spinach) forever changed how infants are fed in the U.S. and Canada (and gave every North American child an instinctive loathing of processed prunes in any form).
Gerber offered 5 jars for $1.00 to any mother who would fill out a form giving the name and address of her grocery store. Using this information, Gerber expanded its product into just about every nook and cranny of the United States and Canada within a few years. (That price was not as cheap as it sounds. Twenty cents in 1928 dollars equals about $3.00 in our present inflation-boated U. S. currency. The current grocery store price is about $1.25.)
Now a subsidiary of the world-wide Nestlé Company, Gerber controls about 80% of the U.S. baby food market, far out-distancing its rivals, Beech Nut, Heinz, and Del Monté.
Kraft cut preparation from hours to minutes – "a meal for 4 in 9 minutes for about 19¢", according to the blurb on the box – by combining dry macaroni with a sealed package of powdered American cheese in a box that could be kept on the shelf for ten months or longer. Eight million boxes were sold the first year it appeared on grocery shelves.
During the 1939-1945 World War a homemaker in the U.S. could get two boxes of Macaroni & Cheese for one meat ration stamp. Fifty million boxes were sold before the war ended, and America had become addicted to "mac-n-cheese", the ultimate "comfort food". In fact, Americans consume a whopping 700 million boxes of mac-n-cheese each year or about 2.0 boxes per person, which, one would think, should make Americans the world-champion mac-n-cheesers.
We arenot even close. Canadians are the undisputed title-holders and have been since forever – downing a whopping 3.2 boxes of Mac and Cheese per person each year, which is 1.7 million boxes each and every week.
The product still goes by its original name in Canada: "Kraft Dinner", and it is often eaten with a liberal dose of ketchup.
Our distinguished tasting panel, ably chaired by master carpenter Dan "Squeezy" Svoboda, tested Mac-n-Cheese a la ketchup, and pronounced it "not that bad".
Many Canadians consider it "the national dish" and a "cultural icon". It is the top-selling single grocery item in Canada where it is often referred to as simply "KD". Note 7
The year 1937 also saw the introduction of Ragú's bottled prepared spaghetti sauce by the Rochester, N.Y.-based Ragú Packing Company. It quickly replaced the hours-long process of making Italian-style red pasta sauce over a hot stove and introduced "Spaghetti Night" to meat-rationed American dinner tables during the 1939-1945 World War.
Now owned by Mizkan Holdings, a Japanese company, Ragu is still the best-selling prepared spaghetti sauce brand in the U.S. out-distancing rivals Prego (owned by Campbell's Soup) and Classico by a considerable margin.
Jell-O was invented in 1897 by Pearle Bixby Wait of LeRoy, New York. A carpenter and cough syrup manufacturer, he had not been particularly successful in the cough syrup business and was looking for a different product to market.
Mr. Wait was not an overwhelming success in the food business either, and in 1899 sold the rights to Jell-O to his neighbor, Orator F. Woodward, owner of the Genesee Pure Foods Company for $450.00. The dessert premiered commercially in four fruit flavors in 1900: lemon, orange, raspberry, and strawberry – lime was not added until 1930.
"A 5¢ Package Makes 2 Quarts of…"
Originally named “Kool-Ade” and priced at 10¢, it was renamed “Kool-Aid”, and the price lowered to 5¢ during the Great Depression.
A one-ounce package made two quarts of the chilled, sugar-sweetened soft-drink in any of six fruit flavors.
Today an envelope of Kool-Aid is 30¢ – slightly more than a single penny in 1933 dollars – making it the best soft drink bargain in the entire world.
Made from powdered gelatin, sugar and flavorings, Jell-O added to boiling water, stirred and chilled produced a sparkling, shimmering dessert that delignted children and adults alike. It was widely marketed as "American's most favorite dessert" long before many people had even heard of it.
Posters, billboards, and magazine ads featured Jell-O recipes. Recipe booklets illustrated by famous artists such as Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish offered endless new ways to serve Jell-O. They were available at any grocery that sold Jell-O and free on request from the company by U. S. mail.
American homemakers fell in love with the ease, simplicity, and versatility of the product, and the national fascination with everything Jell-O has lasted well over a century propelled by annual contests that challenge home cooks to come up with new and innovative ways to use the flavored gelatin in family dining.
Jell-O instant pudding followed in 1936: just add milk, "heat, chill and eat". It put desert pudding on the nation's menu. Jell-O was manufactured in LeRoy until 1964 when manufacturing was moved to Dover, Deleware. Jell-O is now a General Foods brand.
Weekly Food Basket
From 1900 to 1940
|Weekly Cost of Food in the Arts & Crafts Era|
|1 lb. apples||0.10||0.11||0.11||0.11||0.05|
|2 lbs. roast||0.36||0.38||0.82||0.82||0.62|
|3 lbs. steak||0.48||0.60||1.41||1.44||1.23|
|1 lb. bread||0.05||0.05||0.12||0.09||0.09|
|1 lb. butter||0.27||0.39||0.71||0.46||0.41|
|2 lbs. chicken||0.39||0.57||0.32||1.11||0.90|
|1 lb. coffee||0.16||0.20||0.43||0.37||0.22|
|1 doz. eggs||0.23||0.36||0.76||0.52||0.42|
|1 gal. milk||0.20||0.34||0.66||0.62||0.56|
|2 bu. potatoes||0.61||0.40||0.66||0.38||0.25|
|1 lb. rice||0.36||0.08||0.17||0.09||0.07|
|1 lb. sugar||0.36||0.05||0.18||0.06||0.08|
|Weekly Take-Home Wage||9.40||12.08||28.56||28.65||26.70|
|Food as a % of Weekly Take-Home Wage||31.7||29.2||25.8||21.2||18.4|
|Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, 2 vols.|
Invented by Edwin Perkins in Hastings, Nebraska, it replaced the laborious process of squeezing, pulping, and straining fruit to make wholesome soft drinks. And, at 5¢, for two quarts of the sugar-sweetened beverage (with vitamin D added), it was a Depression-era bargain – and still is today. Note 9
Composed of dextrose, citric acid, tartaric acid, flavoring and food coloring in powdered form, it could be kept on the shelf for years.
Quickly outgrowing its facilities in Hastings, the company moved to Chicago in 1931, where it remains. It was sold to General Foods in 1953 and is now owned by Kraft.
The original name, Kool-Ade was challenged by FDA regulators who deemed the suffix "-ade" to be "misleading" – reserved for drinks containing actual fruit juice. Perkins changed the name to Kool-Aid in 1934, and everyone was happy.
Food Cost and Life Expectancy
Almost all of these packaged processed foods, in addition to being simple to prepare, healthy, nutritious, and quick, were very easy on the budget.
Food cost as a percentage of America's wages was cut in half during the Arts & Crafts period, in no small part due to the revolution in processing, packaging, and transportation. At the turn of the century, a workingman spent nearly a third of his take-home wages feeding his family. By 1941 that cost had declined to 18% and was still falling. (Today it is about 7%, the lowest of any nation in on Earth.)
At the same time, an increasing variety of wholesome, healthy foods – both fresh and packaged – was available throughout the year in all but the most remote parts of the country and, after 1930, many basic foods such as milk and bread were fortified with vitamins and other nutrition supplements.
This vastly improved national diet contributed materially to better overall health in North America. Dietary deficiency diseases that had plagued mankind since the dawn of time were in steep decline by 1941, and within the next decade all but disappeared in most parts of the United States and Canada.
Life expectancy rose sharply. A male born in the U.S. in 1900 could expect to live just 48 years – a number only slightly improved since the Middle Ages. But, by 1941 his expected lifespan was 63 years – the largest increase in life-expectancy since record-keeping began.
Storage in an Arts & Crafts Kitchen
Adding to the problem was the dramatic increase in the number of small appliances and kitchen utensils. The pop-up toaster, waffle maker, blender and electric mixer had all become common kitchen fixtures, as had the electric percolator. By the mid-1930s not only were small appliances vastly improved over earlier, utilitarian models, they were becoming sleek and stylish enough to be brought right to the dinner table.
Some were to become icons of industrial design. The 1930 Art-Deco Sunbeam MixMaster® stand mixer remained virtually unchanged well into the 1960s and has now been revived under a new name with modern innards but the same 1930s "retro" look. It is the only small appliance ever to have appeared on a U.S. postage stamp.
But, the undisputed king of small appliance longevity is the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. First sold in 1919, it has remained essentially unchanged for over a century. The company brags that any accessory made today will fit any mixer ever made, all the way back to 1919.
The distinctive bullet silhouette of the appliance has been copyrighted, and it is, as far as we know, the only small appliance made that has its own cult following.
The Hoosier cabinet, or just "Hoosier", was invented by J. S. McGuinn in 1899, modeled on the commercial baker's cabinet that was a mainstay of the company's business.
Offered for sale beginning in 1903, it was designed to give the homemaker a self-contained task station that held her cooking and baking needs, plus a sanitary surface on which to work.
McGuinn, a creative marketer, sold the relatively expensive cabinets on an affordable time payment plan of a dollar a week.
The top section was set back, usually about 12", and contained a center storage compartment which could be closed off with one or more doors (sometimes a tambour or roll-up door since swing-out doors could interfere with the work surface)
Above this compartment were metal bins and lidded glass jars for sugar, coffee, tea and spices; and a metal flour bin with a built-in sifter. Between these two sections was the pull-out countertop. Originally wood, then zinc and finally a type of enameled steel called "porceliron". Porceliron was very popular because it was easy to clean and considered very sanitary. Some later Hoosiers were built entirely of porceliron.
Cabinet doors held racks for storing small items. Glass storage jars were designed to exactly fit the cabinet and its racks. A major manufacturer of Hoosier glassware was Sneath Glass Company. Original sets of Hoosier glassware consisted of coffee and tea canisters, a saltbox, and four to eight spice jars which fit in a revolving rack.
No space was wasted. Even door backs were pressed into service to display cards that contained useful information such as measurement conversions, basic menus, or cooking hints; or today's shopping list. Extra blank cards allowed mom to write down and display her own recipes at eye level for quick, hands-free, reference while she worked.
Other manufacturers soon copied (and sometimes improved on) Mcquinn's design. The Coppes Bros. & Zook Co. of Nappanee, Indiana, began offering the Napanee Dutch Kitchenet around 1913. (According to Coppes historian, Bill Warner, the single "p" in Napanee was deliberate. At the time "the proper name of a city could not be used in a trademarked name". Hence one "p" rather than "pp" in Napanee of Nappanee, Indiana). The Napaanee cabinet was nearly as popular as the original Hoosier.
Sears offered its own version of the Hoosier Cabinet in its 1908 catalog. Its Wilson kitchen Cabinet was a workstation and drawered hutch which organized baking tools, a grinder, a food scale and serving pieces in a single cabinet. The basic model sold for $5.45, while more elaborate models intended for use in a dining room were fabricated in walnut and other fine woods for as much as $19.50, freight extra. By 1923 the Wilson cabinet had evolved into a six-drawer, four-door workstation with a sanitary white enameled steel top, featuring sugar and flour bins with see-through windows to keep track of how much was left, a feature copied by Hoosier cabinets a few years later.
Altogether, as many as forty different companies were manufacturing Hoosier-style cabinets by 1920. These manufacturers included Ariel, Boone, Cardinal, Diamond, Ideal, Knetcher, Kitchen Maid, Kompass & Stoll, Larkin, Marsh, McDougall, Minneapolis Furniture, Perkins-Rhoades, Queen, Ranney, Sellers, and Showers. As competition grew, the various manufacturers strove to outdo each other with useful (and sometimes not so useful) features.
In 1921, The McDougall Co., of Frankfort, Indiana introduced a cabinet with shelves that automatically extended when the door was opened. The McDougall "Auto-Front" cabinet sold from $14.50 to $54.00 and could be purchased "on approval" for 30 days and paid for on the installment plan.
From Coppes historian, Bill Warner:
Coppes started in 1876 with a sawmill and has been in continuous operation ever since. Coppes Commons is now leasing retail space, offering meeting areas for events such as weddings, etc. in the restored factory buildings. Also, we collect the Hoosier kitchen cabinets that were made in this factory and display them in our Coppes kitchen Cabinet Museum in a second-floor room.
We have found the names of 34 different companies that offered kitchen cabinets that could be labeled Hoosiers, most were in or near Indiana which helped the Hoosier name stick to this style of cabinet. The age-old question that everyone wants answered is which company was earliest in manufacturing "Hoosier" cabinets and which company made the most cabinets. I can only speak for Coppes Commons, hopefully, someone with factual information will add their knowledge to the discussion.
In Nappanee, Indiana there was an existing furniture company that was making and selling tall stand-alone kitchen cabinets as early as 1897 (we have the catalog). This company was named Nappanee Furniture Co. and was directed by Albert and Charles Mutschler. I personally give the credit for developing the early kitchen cabinet here in Nappanee to Albert and Charles. In 1902, the Nappanee Furniture Co. joined with Coppes Bros. & Zook and started to concentrate on manufacturing kitchen cabinets. Around 1913 the partnership had a friendly split with the Coppes & Zook Co. keeping and enlarging the kitchen cabinet business. The Mutschler Brothers Company went on to become a major producer of modern kitchens.
In our collection, we have a ledger book from 1924, in that one year Coppes Bros. & Zook produced and sold 74,000 Hoosier style cabinets (I counted them), and continued to offer Hoosier style cabinets until the early 1940s. As the kitchen cabinet style changed in the early 30s, Coppes, like other cabinet companies, began adding wall-mounted cabinets and base units in their catalogs.
Here in Nappanee, we like to think of our two local kitchen cabinet factories as an additional reason for Nappanee being world-famous.
Thank You, hope you will visit our website and our museum.
G. L. Sellers & Sons of Elwood, Indiana manufactured a line of popular cabinets that trumped McDougall by not only offering an Auto-Front device but also an automatic lowering flour bin and 13 "other long-missed" features, including a recipe card box and porceliron rather than wood shelves.
The Boone kitchen Cabinet manufactured by Campbell-Smith-Ritchie Co. of Lebanon, Indiana, took gadgetry to its ultimate with cabinets that included a fold-out ironing board, a pull-out stool, a wind-up alarm clock/timer, a coffee-grinder, a mirror and even a desk complete with pigeonholes and a pencil drawer (See photo above).
Fitted & Built-in Cabinetry
By 1925, however, the glory days of the Hoosier cabinet were over. Sales dropped off and most of the Hoosier manufacturers, including the original Hoosier Manufacturing Co., either went out of business or turned to making other things.
Hoosier manufacturing struggled along until the eve of the World War. It was purchased in 1941 out of liquidation by a Cincinnati company and its facilities used to make wood cabinets and lockers for the military. By the time it closed, however, the company had manufactured over two million cabinets, about 600 a day at its peak.
What knocked Hoosiers out of the box were built-in cabinets, which by the mid-1920s were becoming the must-have standard in most new kitchens and the envy of every homemaker with an older kitchen who aspired to the new style kitchen with numerous fitted cabinets pictured in glossy period magazines.
For a few dollars more than the cost of a Hoosier, she could have a kitchen full of built-in cabinets with continuous countertops as work surfaces and niches exactly sized to appliances. Hoosiers became "old fashioned" relics almost overnight, relegated to the back porch, basement or garage to store dad's tools and paint.
Some Hoosier manufacturers tried to adapt by offering pre-made fitted kitchen cabinets as an adjunct to their regular furniture products. Hoosier, for example, showed fitted cabinets in its advertising after 1930. Sellers began offering built-in cabinets made to order as early as 1927 and exhibited its built-in kitchen at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Its catalog for that year offered built-in cabinets along with its updated Art-Deco Hoosiers, chrome-legged tables with linoleum and Porceliron tops and matching chrome and plastic chairs.
But, manufactured cabinets were not well received by a public that wanted the better fit and quality of custom cabinetry. So built-in cabinetmaking during the Arts & Crafts era remained largely a local enterprise. A skilled cabinetmaker built cabinets on site, first locating the kitchen sink under a window (for keeping an eye on the kids in the yard), then building pantries and cupboards to fit around appliances. Sometimes his efforts were guided by an architect or designer but more often not.
Some of the features in these early cabinets were ingenious: adjustable shelves, slide-out trays on wooden glides, fresh bread drawers with zinc lids and pull-out cutting boards were common, and often cleverly designed and well-built – very well-built as anyone who has ever had to tear out these cabinets will readily but unhappily, attest.
But, more often the storage was primitive, awkward and inconvenient – a giant step back from the very organized and efficient Hoosiers. It's astounding to us that cabinetmakers of the period did not adopt the various organizational technologies that had been pioneered by the Hoosiers over the prior twenty-five years but for some reason, they often did not.
It took the post-war housing boom to bring industrial-scale cabinetmaking into full bloom. All of today's major cabinet manufacturers were started after the World War. But, the basic cabinet standards that made large-scale cabinet manufacturing possible after the War were firmly established during the Arts & Crafts period. Cabinet dimensions such as the standard 36" countertop height, 24" deep base cabinets, and 12" deep wall cabinets were exactly the dimensions used in Hoosiers after trial and error found that they were the most convenient dimensions for most homemakers.
Recreating the Arts & Crafts Kitchen
The modern Arts & Crafts kitchen is only a distant relative of the actual kitchen of the Arts & Crafts period. In fact, the contemporary kitchen is more accurately a modern kitchen in the Arts & Crafts style. What kitchen designers have done is take the best design elements of the Arts & Crafts house and combine them with modern kitchen features to produce a hybrid kitchen that looks and feels like it could have been completely at home in an Arts & Crafts house. . . . (Continues)