Arts & Crafts Kitchens:
The Birth of the Modern Kitchen
J. M. Edgar, CMC, CRC

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.

Sometimes we succeeded. Mostly we failed. Things have definitely changed. More than 80% of the kitchens we build today are some version of the Craftsman, Mission or Prairie kitchen. We are in the middle of an Arts & Crafts revival and even houses that do not otherwise have a hint of Arts & Crafts styling feature Craftsman, Prairie and Mission kitchens.

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.

Prior to the First World War, Arts & Crafts kitchens barely differed from their rather Spartan Victorian antecedents. A wall sink, a few drawer chests and a table or two for food preparation, along with a wood- or coal-burning stove was the standard.

Social, Cultural and Technological Influences on the Arts & Crafts Kitchen

Kitchens of the period seldom featured built-in cabinetry. There was very little need for extensive storage. Most food was grown or produced locally and purchased fresh daily — at least in upscale neighborhoods. The milkman delivered fresh milk, the butcher fresh 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 storing kitchen implements and possibly dining ware. (For a list of implements recommended for the well equipped Arts & Crafts kitchen, see Recommended Equipment and Labor-Saving Appliances for a Well Equipped Kitchen, elsewhere on this page.)

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.

Health and Sanitation

The flu pandemic of 1918-19 on top of the adulterated and impure food scandals1 of the early 1900s 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 fervor for everything "green", in the 1920s and '30s it was everything "hygienic". All manner of products were suddenly "more sanitary", "healthier" and "cleaner", 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 disappeared from restaurants, bars and hotel lobbies almost overnight. In 1890 they were everywhere, by 1910 they had become curiosities.

Food Safety

Food was a very big part of the health and hygiene movement, and the federal government played, and still plays, a pivotal role in ensuring food safety.

The drive for safer food was already decades old by the turn of the 20th century. Starting in 1883 with the appointment of Harvey Wiley as head of the USDA's Department of Chemistry, food adulteration studies were given wide publicity to raise public awareness. Wiley worked through state regulators, physicians, and pharmacists to generate support for a national food safety law. But, it took the Upton Sinclair's revelations about unsafe practices in the meat packing industry in his novel, The Jungle, published in 1905 to tip the balance in favor of a national food safety law. The result was the Pure Food and Drug and the Meat Inspection Acts of 1906.

The law prohibited "interstate and foreign commerce in adulterated and misbranded food…" A product in violation could be confiscated and the seller fined or imprisoned. Later amendments to the act made corporate executives criminally liable for any adulteration of food products, even if they did not know about them. 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 and false labeling were considered "misbranding".

The Bureau of Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture, recast in 1927 as the Food and Drug Administration, was charged with the Herculean task of ensuring the safety of the nation's food supply. Despite the usual bureaucratic missteps and political wrangling, it was very aggressive, and made sure that its enforcement actions were very widely publicized.

There had already been 12,000 seizures and prosecutions by 1924, and it quickly became clear to all concerned that the federal government was not kidding about food safety.

Even, well known consumer products felt the weight of the new law. Coca-Cola, having seen the writing on the wall, had already eliminated cocaine from its formula, but FDA regulators also wanted Coke to remove caffeine, which they considered a dangerous adulterant. The FDA made its point by seizing a batch of Coke, which resulted in a lawsuit quaintly entitled U.S. vs. 40 Barrels and 20 Kegs of Coca Cola. The government lost, and caffeine remains in Coke to this day.

Some food processors found ingenious ways to circumvent labeling requirements. Peanut butter with few peanuts was re-labeled "Peanut Spred". Similarly, "Salad Bouquet" labeled "for use like vinegar" actually contained little vinegar . It was mostly water, which was dangerous when used for pickling since it allowed the pickles to spoil. "Bred-Spred", which looked like strawberry jam, had no strawberries. It was compounded of water, sugar, coal tar (for color), artificial pectin, artificial flavoring and grass seed.

Many of these products were attractively packaged and heavily advertised. Legislation to combat this product dilution was passed in 1930 permitting the FDA to establish food standards and requiring 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". Most such products soon disappeared or were reformulated or labeled to meet FDA requirements.

As a result of national food safety regulation, 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 preserved and prepared foods. By the eve of World War II, 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: "Jell-O" (1900), Hershey's Chocolate (1900), Dole Pineapple (1903), Quaker Oatmeal (1904), Popsicle (1905), Crisco (1911), Hellman's Mayonnaise and Morton Salt (1912), to name just a few.

The 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 food almost universally available. Exotic foods, many virtually unknown in the U.S. a scant few decades earlier such as apricots, artichokes, mangos, pineapple and canned tuna, became commonplace at the corner grocery, available year around. 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.

Universal Electrification

Indoor plumbing was the transformational technology that created the first modern bathroom by bringing it indoors during the Victorian Era. 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 new luxury even to America's rural marches. The Rural Electric Administration (REA) had brought electric power to over 33% of the nation's farms by 1939. Electricity powered lights, fans and, most importantly for food safety, refrigerators.

Home Refrigeration

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. Ice boxes 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.

The problem with refrigeration using ice as a cooling medium was that ice melted and had to be replaced. Ice was delivered every day or two in 50 or 100 lb. blocks by the leather-aproned ice man in his horse-drawn insulated ice wagon. Quite often the ice box in a Victorian kitchen 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 ice boxes. 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 home use started slowly. As early as 1910 they began to be retrofitted to ice boxes, not to replace ice, but to provide supplemental cooling that made the block of ice last longer. The cooling mechanism used an electric or natural gas compressor motor attached to the top of the box. This design feature, compressor on top, was adopted by General Electric for the first widely accepted home refrigerator introduced in 1925, the "Monitor Top"2. The compressor motor was housed in a cylinder (the "monitor") on top of the actual refrigerator. 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 $4,000. In 1931 you could buy a new Ford for about the same price.

But, it did not take long for competitors to challenge GE's hegemony. Westinghouse, Maytag, Kelvinator, Norge, Sears-Kenmore and Fridigaire introduced more streamlined refrigerators that moved the compressor motor inside the refrigerator cabinet. This much quieter design became the model for all future home refrigerators. As the century progressed, the two-ice-tray freezer compartment had grown large enough to hold ice cream and frozen foods.

The original coolant was sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas, but one that smells so bad you would have plenty of time to escape after one whiff. Other early refrigerators used methyl chloride, which is also lethal, but odorless. By the middle of the 1930s most companies had adopted freon, a stable non-toxic gas, used until it was outlawed in the 1970's because it depleted the ozone layer. The current refrigerant is HFC-134a (1,1,1,2-Tetrafluoroethane), which has no known adverse health or environmental effects.
Familiar Foods From the Arts & Crafts Era
Most of the "Modern" foods you buy everyday are not at all modern. Many of our most familiar food brands originated during the food revolution of the Arts & Crafts period.
1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s
• Jell-O gelatin
• Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar
• Wesson Oil
• Chiclets
• Hills Bros. Coffee
• Egg Cream (which contains neither egg nor cream) invented by Louis Auster in Brooklyn (disputed)
• The term "hot dog" coined by cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan (disputed)

• Peanut butter and jelly sandwich invented by Julia Davis Chandler (disputed)

• Karo Corn Syrup
• Cracker Jack
• Presto self-rising cake flour

• Pepsi Cola
• Dole canned pineapple
• Canned tuna (or 1908)
• Sunshine biscuits

• Quaker Oatmeal
• Swans Down Cake Flour
• Campbell's Pork & Beans
• French's Mustard
• Dr. Pepper
• Tea bag invented by Thomas Sullivan
• Banana split created by David Strickler who continued to sell the confection in his pharmacy until 1965

• Heinz Baked Beans
• Royal Crown Cola
• Ovaltine
• Popsicle accidently invented by 11-year-old Frank Epperson
• Holly sugar

• Hebrew National franks
• Planter's Nuts
• A-1 Steak Sauce
• Kelloggs Corn Flakes
• Pure Food & Drug and Meat Inspection Acts become law

• LeSeur canned baby peas
• Hershey Kisses
• Canada Dry Ginger Ale

• Hershey bar with almonds
• Canned tuna (or 1903)
• Electric toaster for home use by GE.

• Melitta drip coffeemaker (or 1910)
• Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour
• Hills Bros. invents the vacuum packed coffee can
• Hydrox cookies
• Post Toasties
• Chipped Beef on Toast appears in the Manual for Army Cooks and was immediately christened "sh_t on a shingle" by disenchanted doughboys. It nonetheless remained a mainstay of Army breakfasts for nearly a century

• Crisco vegetable shortening
• Domino sugar
• Mazola corn oil
• Electric waffle iron

• Hamburger bun
• Hellmann's mayonnais
• Oreo, the best-selling cookie in history
• Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce
• Morton Table Salt ("When it rains, it pours.")
• Whitman Sampler
• Thousand Island Dressing invented by Sophia LaLonde (disputed)
• Lorna Doon cookies
• Scoville Scale for measuring the "hot" in hot peppers
• Cracker Jack unveils "a prize in every package"
• Vitamin pills

• Campbell's Cream of Celery soup
• Peppermint Life Savers
• Mallomars
• Quaker Puffed Cereals

• Del Monte fruit cocktail
• Reuben sandwich invented by Omaha grocer Reuben Kulakofsky
• First electric refrigerator for commercial use

• Kellogg's 40% Bran Flakes
• Pyrex glass baking dishes

• Nathan's Famous franks
• Fortune Cookie invented by George Jung
• Kraft American Cheese
• First electric refrigerator for home use (GE)

• U.S. enters First World War
• Moon Pies
• Clark Bars
• Food and Fuel Control Act gives federal government control of food production during WWI

• Contadina tomato sauce
• French Dip sandwich

• Hostess Snack Cakes
• Nestle Milk Chocolate Bar
• Kitchen Aid Mixer
• Malt-O-Meal
• Peter-Paul candy bar
• "Sunkist" oranges
• La Choy
• Eskimo Pie
• Good Humor
• Baby Ruth & Oh Henry!
• Marshmallow Fluff
• Caesar Salad

• Wonder Bread
• Welsh's grape jelly
• Betty Crocker cake mixes
• Land O'Lakes butter
• Sioux Bee Honey
• Sanka
• White Castle Hamburger
• Quaker Quick instant oatmeal
• Canned citrus juice
• Wrigley's chewing gum

• A & W Root Beer
• Girl Scout Cookies
• Gummi Bears
• Clark Bar
• Klondike ice cream bar
• "Better Homes & Gardens" founded (as "Fruit Garden & Home Magazine")

• Pet Canned Milk
• Reese's Peanut Butter Cup
• Mounds candy bar
• Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink
• Russell Stover Candies
• Velveeta cheese

• Bit-O-Honey candy bar
• Fruit-flavored Life Savers
• Beech-Nut Coffee
• Popsicle patented & commercial production begins
• Oscar Meyer sliced bacon

• Green Giant canned peas
• Mr. Goodbar
• Jolly Time Popcorn

• Breyer's Ice Cream
• Hormel canned ham
• Milk Duds
• Kellogs Raisin Bran
• Sunbeam "Toastmaster" pop-up toaster

• Gerber's baby food
• Homogenized milk

• Broccoli introduced to the U.S.
• Peter Pan Peanut Butter
• Progresso soups
• Nehi soft drinks
• Butterfingers
• Heath bar
• Kool-Aid
• Pez
• Chef Boy-Ar-Dee
• Double Bubble gum
• Rice Krispies
• Nabisco Shredded Wheat
• Wheaties
• Wonder® Sliced bread

• Gerber baby food
• Oscar Meyer Wieners
• Karmelkorn
• Snickers
• Twizzlers
• 7-Up (As "Lithiated Lemon")
• Wax paper milk carton
• Poor Boy sandwich
• Rice Krispies
• Ruby Red Grapefruit
• Hostess Twinkies
• Mott's Apple Sauce
• Philly Cheese Steak
• Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail
• Birds-Eye frozen foods
• Faberware Electric Percolator
• Toll House Cookies

• Beech-Nut Baby Food
• Bisquick
• Wyler's Bouillon Cubes
• Tootsie Pops
• Alka Seltzer
• Sunbeam "MixMaster"
• The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer

• Bagel
• Fritos
• Skippy Peanut Butter
• 3-Musketeers bar
• Mars Bar
• Pablum baby food

• Nestle Toll-House Cookies
• Miracle Whip Salad Dressing
• Campbell's Chicken Noodle & Cream of Mushroom soups
• Waring Blender
• Spic 'n Span household cleaner invented by two housewives in Saginaw, Michigan
• "Lithiated Lemon" renamed 7-Up

• Pet Evaporated Milk
• Ritz crackers
• Hawaiian Punch

• Adolph's Meat Tenderizer
• Kit Kat Bar
• ReaLemon Lemon Juice
• 5-Flavor Life savers

• Jell-O Instant Chocolate Pudding
• Hungry Jack Pancake Mix
• Mars Almond Bar
• Cobb Salad
• Girl Scout Cookies

• Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dinner
• Chex Cereals
• Kix corn puff cereal
• Ragu Spaghetti Sauce
• Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
• Pepperidge Farm Bread
• Rolo candy

• Bumble Bee Tuna
• Lawry's Seasoned Salt
• Mott's Apple Juice
• Nescafe Instant Coffee
• Tupperware
• Nestle Crunch

• Food Stamps
• Lay's Potato Chips
• Cream of Wheat
• Pressure Cooker
• Sara Lee cheese cake
Sources: The Food Chronology, James Trager [Henry Holt:New York] 1995; The Century in Food: America's Fads and Favorites, Beverly Bundy [Collectors Press:Portland OR] 2002; Candy: The Sweet History , Beth Kimmerle [Collector's Press:Portland OR] 2003

By the late 1930's Frigidaire dominated much of the market. The Frigidaire name became so closely associated with home refrigeration that it became over the years 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. Frigidaire is now merely a brand name owned by the giant AG Electrolux, a Swedish company.

Appliance makers 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).

Refrigerator purchases were encouraged by 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 ice box was quickly becoming an interesting historical curiosity relegated to the very few parts of the country that did not yet have electricity.

Commercial Refrigeration

Even more important to the American diet, however, was the expansion of commercial refrigeration.

The idea of shipping fruit and produce long distances by rail and ship using blocks of ice to preserve the perishable freight 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 replenishment stations along most main-line railroad tracks.

The Popsicle®

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. You 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 ones big sisters.

Refrigerated rail cars incorporating large ice bins or hoppers made importation of fresh foods from distant parts of the country reliable and safe.

Produce companies, such as the Western Fruit Express and Fruit Growers Express rapidly transported citrus fruits, lettuce, asparagus, watermelons, cantaloupes, green onions, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, cherries and tomatoes grown in California and Florida and apples from Washington State as far as 3,000 miles in refrigerated rail cars or "reefers" attached to fast, cross-country, passenger trains.

Oranges in December became a common sight at the grocery by 1930 — and a welcome addition to every child's Christmas stocking. The system was so efficient that mechanical refrigeration in rail cars did not gain a foothold until the 1950s when the refrigeration units became cost-effective enough to complete with ice as the preferred refrigerant.

But, mechanical refrigeration units quickly replaced ice just about everywhere else. By the 1920's ice wagons were being supplanted by motor trucks with on-board mechanical refrigerators. Refrigerated milk trucks had appeared in most cities by 1925. Milk was packaged in sanitary, sealed, bottles — not ladled from dusty crocks — and by 1937 the familiar disposable wax milk carton was coming into use to replace the returnable bottle. A number of studies had shown that the disposable carton was more sanitary and less likely to promote disease.

Arts & Crafts Kitchens: Piggly-Wiggly Logo.

The Amazing Piggly-Wiggly

Piggly-Wiggly®, America's first true self-service grocery store, opened in Memphis, Tenn. in 1916 with 6051 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.

The "self serving" concept was an immediate success, including innovations such as, 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 often 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.

1 By way of comparison, a modern mega-mart stocks about 45,000 different items.

2 Piggly-Wiggly's influence extended far beyond grocery retailing. On a visit to the U.S. in the late 1940s Taiichi Ohno, an engineer at Toyota Cars, visited a Piggly-Wiggly during a trip to Michigan and was impressed by its highly efficient, demand-driven store inventory replenishment system that ordered replacement items only when existing items were sold. He incorporated it into his Toyota Production system (TPS) which in turn became the prototype "just-in-time" (JIT) lean manufacturing system used in automobile manufacturing world wide, and now reaching throughout the industrial sector of all major economies. It is a basic element of ISO 9000 certification, a must-have credential for any manufacturer hoping to sell internationally.
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. 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. Beginning in Youngstown, Ohio in 1920, the company covered most of the country by the mid-1930s. For five cents you could acquire a coveted ice-cream bar in one of 85 flavors or flavor combinations. If you did not have a whole nickel yourself, you could pool pennies with friends and siblings and share the prize — although the solemn and earnest consideration of the competing wonders of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry could take a fair amount of sometimes very heated discussion, hurt feelings and a few bruised knuckles before a group consensus could be reached.

A nickel also bought a Popsicle®, a frozen fruit bar on a stick available in six flavors (cherry, lemon, orange, banana, grape, and watermelon). In the 1930s the Popsicle 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. Accidently invented in 1905 by 11-year-old Frank Eperson who left a soda on the porch where it froze, it was not produced commercially until 1924. In the summer of 1931 alone it sold 200 million bars — an incredible 1-1/2 bars for every man, woman and child in the United States.

At the new super markets (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.

Organization and Efficiency

By the late 1920s, a well-organized, efficient kitchen had become the goal of every homemaker who saw the colorful ads for "modern" kitchens in the latest editions of the Ladies' Home Journal and House and Garden.

The middle-class housewife of the Arts & Crafts era did not usually have servants. The waves of mass European migration that had ensured a ready source of low-cost domestic staff had ended with the close of the 19th century. The children of immigrant families, educated in America's free public schools, had aspirations beyond domestic service. Those that still worked as household help were more costly than most middle class households could afford. The "servants crisis" as it was often 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 Victorian times, but peaked during the inter-war period. 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.
"The Beecher sisters were pioneers in scientific kitchen planning. They recommended specific work areas for preparation and clean-up, continuous work surfaces, standardized built-in cupboards and shelves - all ideas taken for granted today. It was obvious to the authors that with new processed foods beginning to come into the marketplace and with their expectation that most homes would soon be servantless, they concentrated on teaching contemporary homemakers how to cope with newly invented ranges, stoves, refrigerators, and other utensils and gadgets." (From the introduction to the book by the Digital Library of Michigan State University)
The book continued in print over a dozen editions, and was enormously influential. But, it was not until kitchens began to be viewed as meal production centers where principles of industrial design and ergonomics could be applied that the real progress in kitchen organization and efficiency began.

Christine Frederick: Scientific 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. 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:

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 husband Frank 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 known in America, 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, that inspired two movies of the same name: 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 outlived 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.
"The first step toward the efficiency any kitchen is to have the kitchen small, compact and without long narrow pantries and closets… A good-sized kitchen for a small house is 10 x 12; the ideal is nearly square… [T]he next step… is to place the principal equipment of stove, sink, tables and closets in right relation to each other… In planning for any kitchen, I have found, after close study, that there are just two main processes in all kitchen work… those processes which prepare the meal [and] those which clear away the meal. Each of these processes covers distinct equipment" (Emphases in the original.).
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.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth: The Kitchen Triangle

Frederick was working toward the principle that was later encapsulated in the concept of the kitchen work triangle, but she did not quite get there. That was left up to a psychologist and and pioneering industrial engineer, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, who, in the early 1920s, began applying rudimentary ergonomic principles to household work through her own time and motion studies.

She discovered that much of the time required for meal preparation involved moving among the three major work centers: sink, refrigerator (or ice box), and cookstove. If this movement could be minimized, she theorized, the time required to prepare meals could be vastly decreased. Experiments proved her correct. They showed that a properly configured kitchen could reduce meal preparation time as much as 70%.

Galbreth's work resulted in the creation of the kitchen work triangle around 1946 by the University of Illinois Small Homes Council to graphically illustrate how these three centers should be arranged for maximum efficiency. The kitchen triangle is still a major element in kitchen planning and a permanent part of the Kitchen Design Guidelines maintained and published by the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Katharine A. Fisher: The Task-Centric Workplace

But, perhaps even more important to modern kitchen planning was the development by Katharine A. Fisher3 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 proposed grouping kitchen tasks factory style, according to purpose and materials, and assigning each task to its own work station. The basic work stations, 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 are central to today's kitchen planning, although there is probably not one kitchen planner in a hundred who knows where these basic ideas originated. The key to an efficient kitchen, she wrote, is ensuring that everything in "daily use" at each work station should be "in sight" and right at hand. This meant, as far as possible, store the ingredients and utensils used at a work station within easy reach of the work station. If an implement is used in two different work stations, rather than waste time walking across the room to get it, buy two of them and store one at each station. It all seem very basic today, but at the time the idea was transcendent, marking a major transformation in kitchen design theory.

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 1920's common sense applies today. 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 .

The idea of 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. 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

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 was commissioned to design an efficient small kitchen for a working-class apartment development in Frankfurt.

How SPAM Won the World War
(Then Conquered the World)
by E. J. R. Bloum

Spam was introduced by Geo. A. Hormel & Co. in 1937, the brainchild of Jay Hormel, president of the company that his family owned. Looking for a way to turn previously discarded pork shoulder meat into a marketable product, he hit upon the idea for an inexpensive canned lunch meat that would fit the budget of Depression-era housewives.

His timing was perfect. In its revolutionary vacuum can, SPAM could be kept on the shelf for seven years without spoiling, which made it an ideal staple of GI mess halls after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor four years later.

Dubbed the "Miracle Meat" by military planners; soldiers, sailors and Marines in the ranks were often less complimentary, christening it "Something Posing as Meat", "Ham that Failed its Physical" and "Meatloaf Without Basic Training", among other, sometimes much cruder, sobriquets.

The U.S. military had purchased 150 million pounds of SPAM by war's end. It followed American GI's into every theater, from Bougainville to Berlin. Hormel greatly expanded its production to 15 million cans a week in order to supply not just the U.S. forces, but also the armies of nearly every allied nation and sometimes their civilian populations as well.

The United Kingdom was introduced to SPAM even before America's entry into the World War as part of President Roosevelt's Lend Lease program. It changed the British diet both during and after the War, becoming a regular feature of British breakfasts and school lunch programs by the 1960s. The SPAM fritter (battered and fried sliced SPAM), introduced in the 1940s as a wartime expedient, is still popular — sold in "chippies" (British for stand-up-only fast food restaurant), and pre-made in a can for heat and serve convenience at home.

The ubiquity of SPAM in the UK was parodied by the popular comedy group Monty Python, in a 1970 sketch entitled SPAM that featured an English couple unable to order a SPAMless breakfast in a cafe where every dish included SPAM ("SPAM and eggs. Ham and eggs with SPAM. SPAM with SPAM and eggs....")

The Soviet Union, too, received millions of pounds of American SPAM which the Russians nicknamed "Roosevelt Sausage". Without it, as Nikita Khrushchev candidly admitted in his autobiography, the Soviet Union would not have been able to feed the victorious Red Army that captured Berlin in 1945, ending the war in Europe.

During and after the war, SPAM was distributed widely in Guam, Saipan, Okinawa, the Philippines and Hawaii where fresh meat had almost disappeared. It is still enormously popular in those islands.

In the Philippines SPAM is a national dish and celebrated as a touchstone of cultural identity. For many Filippinos — who consume 2.76 million pounds of SPAM every year — it is the ultimate comfort food. A popular, but pricey, chain of restaurants, the SPAMJAM Cafe, serves only dishes made with SPAM.

Guam, however, is home to the world champion SPAM-mers. Guamanians consume a whopping 16 cans of SPAM per person annually. It is central to local cuisine, with dozens of indigenous recipes calling for SPAM. At the other end of the Northern Mariana Islands, on the island of Saipan, SPAM is eaten as a matter of course for breakfast, lunch, merienda (mid-day snack) and dinner. Popular local dishes include SPAM sushi, SPAM-fried rice and SPAM-n-Egg McMuffins at the local McDonalds.

In Okinawa SPAM is an ingredient in traditional dishes such as sushi and chanpuru, onigiri (rice balls), tempura, goya chanpuru (dried fish) and miso soup. SPAMburgers are on the menu at the local fast food chain, Jef, and sold by Burger King.

To celebrate the product's 70th anniversary in 2007, Hormel produced a commemorative can with a special design sold only on Okinawa.

Hawaiians, too, are true SPAM fanatics. The Aloha State consumes 7 millions cans each year. There is probably no other place in the world where SPAM is a key ingredient in so many local favorites. You can treat yourself to classic SPAM Musubi or a bowl of zesty SPAMbalaya; start your day with hearty breakfast of SPAM quesadillas and even impress your dinner guests with light and delicate SPAM Goi Cuon (Vietnamese summer rolls).

Hawaii's Bess Press publishes Hawaii's SPAM Cookbook compiled by Ann Kondo Corum; and SPAM slicers are a basic utensil in most Hawaiian kitchens. Grocers do not devote just a few inches of shelf space to display SPAM, they need an entire aisle to showcase all 14 different varieties (some available only in Hawaii), including Jalapeño SPAM and my personal favorite, SPAM & Cheese.

Honolulu hosts the annual "Waikiki SPAM JAM®" each April to benefit the Hawaii Food Bank. The festival celebrates all things SPAM, often featuring a collector's edition of SPAM in a special commemorative can.

SPAM's Asian Diaspora was not limited to just the Pacific Islands. SPAM has insinuated itself into regional cuisines throughout Asia.

You can enjoy SPAM ramen in Hong Kong, SPAM musabi in Tokyo and SPAM budae jigae (army stew) in Seoul, a Korean favorite; or kimpap, a sushi made with SPAM, kimchi (pickled, fermented cabage) and rice. SPAM's status in South Korea approaches a near exalted status, especially among those who lived through the Korean war and its aftermath when SPAM was often the only source of meat in a nation that very narrowly escaped mass starvation.

In most of Asia, SPAM is considered a gourmet food and is a popular gift, appropriate for most celebrations. Seasoned American travelers have learned to take along a few cans of Span as thank-you gifts to their Oriental hosts. Elaborately decorated gift boxes packed with SPAM, spices and cooking oil are given to employees by bosses as rewards and incentives, prized as housewarming and wedding gifts, and exchanged between family members and friends to celebrate the lunar New Year. Koreans honor Chuseok (lunar Thanskgiving), by visiting family, paying respects to ancestors, and exchanging cans of SPAM. SPAM gift boxes make up half of all SPAM sales in Korea.

The continental United States did not escape the SPAM invasion, or, rather, re-invasion. Already popular in the U.S. during the Depression for its convenience and budget-friendliness, by the end of the World War it had become completely embedded in the fabric of American life. Many of the thirteen million war veterans returned to civilian life with a fondness for the military's often excoriated "mystery meat"*, and provided Hormel with a vast post-war consumer base for SPAM, creating a demand that has sustained the product's continued growth for over 70 years. It was one of the iconic foods of the post-War period, and SPAMwiches a staple of every workingman's lunch pail.

In 2007 Hormel packed its seven billionth can of SPAM. That's "billion", with a "b", cans, over 2.6 million tons of it — that's a helluva lotta SPAM.

* Veterans of the World War either loved or hated SPAM, there seemed to be no neutral ground. My father could not stand it and would leave the house to read his newpaper on the patio when my mother cooked it. My uncles could not get enough of it and would have had it every day has the aunts had had not rationed it to twice a month.

In Viet Nam, SPAM was a treat that reminded us of weekend family breakfasts and summer-vacation lunches. The Marine Corps no longer issued it as rations, but we got it in care packages from family and friends, along with that other combat ration essential: Kool-Aid®. It was culinary gold, great right out of the can. Add Tabasco® (free for the asking from McIlhenny Company along with the coveted C-Ration Cookbook) and crumble in those bland C-ration crackers and you had a filling meal that could be eaten on the move. And, if you had time to heat it up, even better.
Borrowing ideas from Bauhaus designer Benita Koch-Otte, Christine Frederick's approach to scientific kitchen organization — Frederick's book, The New Housekeeping had been published as Die rationelle Haushaltsführung in Germany in 1922 — and conducting her own time-and-motion studies, Schütte-Lihotzky designed a small, ergonomic and efficient kitchen space devoted solely to meal preparation and cleanup, unlike prior German kitchens which were often multi-use spaces.

The kitchen had a window for light and ventilation and a food preparation center under the window and adjacent to a zinc undermounted sink with wall faucet. An adjusting stool on castors allowed a housewife to sit at a comfortalble height while performing kitchen tasks and move between tasks by rolling the stool. 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. The original was painted blue based on research that sky colors repelled insects (later proven mistaken, bugs are not quite that stupid). Oak was used for flour bins because the tannin in Oak repelled mealworms and beech for countertops because it resisted stains and knife damage. 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 (see photo above).

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 thrown out in 1960s and '70s modernizations. Her concept of a small, compact, efficient and task oriented fitted kitchen became the modern standard, greatly influencing how kitchens were sized, organized and outfitted in the U.S. during America's post-war housing boom and the reconstruction of Europe.

The Impact of Better Design on Kitchen Work

Even though kitchen design for better organization and increased efficiencty 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. Pioneering kitchen designs were created by the Levitt brothers for their Levittown developments. The compact and highly organized fitted kitchens in Levitt houses drew heavily on the research conducted during the prior three decades and set the standard for much of post-war housing. With sanitary Formica® countertops, built-in easy-to-clean enamel-on-steel cabinets, refrigerator and a clothes washing machine (with clothes dryer in later versions), all with a view of the kids playing in the back yard, the kitchens were a minor revolution in design for optimized efficiency. (See Post-war Housing Styles for more information.).

The time and effort required to prepare and clean up after meals has 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 just 3.5 hours per week in 2011 — just 1/2 hour each day — and is still falling.

Processed Foods

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 processed foods. Prepared and partially prepared foods were heavily promoted by the food industry for their "ease", "speed", "simplicity" and "efficiency". And, the fact is, they were every one of these, and due to the efforts of the Food and Drug Administration, for the first time in American history, safe to eat.

Fully or partially prepared foods often sliced meal preparation from hours to minutes. Busy housewives were quick to adopt these wonderful time- and work-savers almost as soon as they appeared on grocery shelves.

A good example is Bisquick, introduced 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 foods, 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 Kitchens) 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. These and other dried breakfast cereals available by 1941 (Shredded Wheat 1893; Grape Nuts 1897; Post Toasties 1908, Quaker Puffed Cereals 1913, Raisin Bran 1926; Rice Krispies 1929; Kix 1937; Chex cereals 1937; Cheerios 1941) made a healthy breakfast essentially self-serve with minimal preparation and little help required from mom: just add milk and sugar, maybe a little fresh fruit on top, and serve. Dry

"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.

One package made two quarts of the chilled, sugar-sweetened soft-drink in any of six fruit flavors.

Today an envelope of Kool-Aid is 25¢ — a single penny in 1933 dollars — making it the best soft drink bargain in the entire world.

Check out our recipe for Carpenter Gator-Aid. Cost: one gallon for 72¢.
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. The process of condensing soups was invented in 1897 by Dr. John T. Dorrance, a chemist at the company who would later become its president; and the familiar red and white label has remained substantially unchanged since 1898. 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!

The Jolly Green Giant became the symbol of the Minnesota Valley Canning Company in 1928, and its familiar, deep throated, "ho-ho-ho" a radio staple in the 1930s. (The character is one of the most recognizable brand icons of the 20th century, second only to Ronald McDonald). The Del Monte brand, founded by the California Fruit Canners Association, came to dominate much of the canned produce 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.

The Geo. A. Hormel & Co. of Austin, Minnesota introduced the nation's first canned ham in 1926 followed by its flagship product, SPAM, in 1937. Originally called Homel Spiced Ham, the name was almost immediately shortened to the catchier SPAM after a naming contest that netted the winner $100.00. It is manufactured in Austin 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, SPAM was welcomed less enthusiastically by soldiers, sailors and Marines in the ranks who grew a little weary of SPAM for breakfast, lunch and dinner nearly every day of the year. Yet, its contributions to Allied victory are 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 staving off 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 Cheese4 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 Army's 70-Year Affair with Processed American Cheese

C-Ration Packaged with four protein fortified crackers, Kraft canned cheese, or "Cheese spread, processed w/ crackers (4)" in Army talk, continued as a component of military combat rations until 1985 when C-Rations were retired in favor of M.R.E.s (Officially, "Meals, Ready to Eat", unofficially "Meals, Rejected by Everyone").

It was as big a hit among GIs in the Viet Nam era as it had been with their doughboy grandfathers in France a half century earlier.
the shelf indefinitely. The U.S. Army appropriated the new Kraft factory's entire production in 1917 to help feed American troops during World War I. 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". Originally a processed Swiss cheese invented by Emil Frey, a Swiss-born cheese maker, Kraft reformulated Velveeta as a creamier version of American cheese that melted into a smooth sauce after buying the Velveeta Cheese Company5 in 1928. Velveeta's popularity increased throughout the 1930s. studies of consumer preference done in the 1930s found that two-thirds of Americans preferred processed cheese to natural cheese.

American cheese made the grilled cheese sandwich a North American dinner tradition, and a favorite of kids of all ages, "Grandad to two-year olds" claimed a kraft advertisement. But it is no longer cheese — at least not officially. The FDA has declared it to be a "pasteurized prepared cheese product", not cheese, but similar to cheese. As a consequence, American Cheese can no longer call itself "cheese", and your grilled cheese sandwich is now actually a "grilled pasteurized prepared cheese product sandwich". Not that Americans care about that. Despite the consumer and industry focus on natural cheeses, which are believed by many to be healthier, American cheese remains embedded in American culinary tradition and, by USDA estimates, still accounts for a full third of all cheese sold in the U.S. Take that, meddling government bureaucrats.

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 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 for 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. 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, Beach Nut and Del Monté.

The dinnertime icon, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese appeared as "Kraft Dinner" on grocery shelves in 1937 in response to the need for a wholesome, filling and inexpensive meal for Depression-era families. Kraft combined 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 — "a meal for 4 in 9 minutes for about 19¢", according to the blurb on the box. During WWII a homemaker in the U.S. could get two boxes of macaroni and cheese for one meat ration stamp. Fifty million boxes were sold before the war ended, and America had become addicted to "mac & cheese", the ultimate "comfort food". In fact, Americans consume a whopping 600 million boxes of mac & cheese each year or about 2.0 boxes per person.

But, it is the Canadians, not Americans, who are the World Champion Mac & Cheesers. Canadians down 3.2 boxes of Mac and Cheese per person each year, easily out pacing also-ran Americans. The product still goes by its original name in Canada: "Kraft Dinner". Many Canadians consider it "the national dish" and a "cultural icon" and it is the top selling single grocery item in Canada where it is often referred to as simply "KD".6

A Workingman's
Weekly Food Basket
From 1900 to 1940
Weekly Cost of Food During the Arts & Crafts Period
Food Item 19001910 19201930 1940
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
Total 2.98 3.53 7.37 6.07 4.90
Wkly Wage 9.40 12.08 28.56 28.65 26.70
Food as a % of Weekly 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.
The year 1937 also saw the introduction of Ragú's bottled prepared spaghetti sauce by the Rochester, N.Y.-based Ragu Packing Company. It quickly replaced the hours-long process of making Italian-style red pasta sauce at home, and introduced "Spaghetti Night" to meat-rationed American dinner tables during World War II. Requiring no preparation other than warming, it was hearty, cheap, nutritious, and filling. It made Italian culinary purists cringe, and its tag line, "That's Italian" compelled many to seek solace in strong drink, but it was an overnight success with busy American homemakers. Now owned by the Anglo-Dutch food giant, Unilever, Ragú is still the best-selling prepared spaghetti sauce brand in the U.S.

Jell-O premiered in four fruit flavors in 1900 (orange, lemon, raspberry and strawberry — lime was not added until 1930). Colorful recipe booklets illustrated by famous artists such as Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish, free for the asking, seemed to offer endless new ways to serve the chilled, shimmering dessert. As many as 15 million booklets were distributed in a year. American homemakers fell in love with it, and the national fascination with everything Jell-O has lasted well over a century, propelled by annual contests that challenge housewives to come up with new and innovative ways to use the flavored gelatin in home dining.

Jell-O instant pudding followed in 1936: just add milk, "heat, chill and eat". It put dessert pudding on the nation's menu.

After 1928 an ice-cold pitcher of Kool-Aid in one of six "sparkling" fruit flavors was a stock item in nearly every summertime American ice box. Invented by Edwin Perkins in Hastings, Nebraska, it replaced the laborious process of squeezing and pulping 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.7

Food Cost and Life Expectancy

In fact, 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 plummeted 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 1/3rd of his wages feeding his family. By 1940 that cost had declined to just over 18% and was still falling. (Today it is about 7%, the lowest of any nation in on Earth, but rising.) At the same time, an increasing variety of wholesome, healthy food — 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 that had barely budged since the Dark Ages. But, by 1941 his expected life span was 63 years — the largest increase in life-expectancy since record-keeping began.

Storage in an Arts & Crafts Kitchen

The massive shift toward refrigerated, canned, frozen and dry foods that could be kept for days, weeks, even months and years, meant that some place to store all this bounty had become a critical need in American kitchens by the eve of the World War.

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® 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. The Sunbeam T-series "ToastMaster" toaster enjoyed the same longevity. The 1930s design was made well into the post-war period, and has also been revived to once again take its proper place in thousands of restored Arts & Crafts and "retro" kitchens (See: Postwar Housing Styles: Cape Cod, Colonial and Ranch). But, the undisputed king of small appliance longevity is the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. First sold in 1919, it has remained essentially unchanged for nearly 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 fan club.

The Hoosiers

Traditional kitchen storage — a few cupboards and some hooks on the wall, was simply overwhelmed. There was no place to put all the stuff. American industry responded to the problem with better designed and organized kitchen furniture. The most remarkable were the all-in-one work station cabinets developed by The Hoosier Manufacturing Company of New Castle, Indiana.

The Hoosier cabinet, or just "Hoosier", was invented by J. S. McGuinn in 1899, modeled on the commercial bakers 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 work 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.

Although the Hoosier eventually came in a great many sizes and styles to suit any kitchen and any budget, its basic three-section configuration never changed. The base section was typically 2 feet deep and 4 to 5 feet wide. It initially contained a large storage area with one slide-out shelf. In later versions, up to six drawers were available in the base, at least one would be a bread drawer, lined with zinc or tin with a lid to keep mice out.

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 built-in sifter. Between these two section was the pull-out countertop. Originally wood, then zinc and finally a type of enamelled steel called "porceliron". Porceliron was very popular because it was easy to clean and considered very sanitary. Some later Hoosiers were build entirely of porceliron.

Cabinet doors were also used for storage. They were typically fitted with racks of various sizes and shapes to hold utensils and spices. Glass jars were designed to 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 salt box, 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 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 Napanee cabinet was nearly as popular as the original Hoosier.

Sears offered its own version of the Hoosier Cabinet in its 1908 catalog. The Wilson Kitchen Cabinet was a work station 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 work station 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 featured copied by Hoosier cabinets a few years later.

Arts & Crafts Kitchens in Period Advertising

Arts & Crafts Kitchen Remodeling in Lincoln, Nebraska: Arts & Crafts Kitchen in Advertising

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Kitchens that appear in period advertising are usually more inspirational than actual; but advertising does give us a good idea of what American homeowners of the time thought were ideal kitchens. These illustrations run the gamut from primitive early period kitchens to streamlined Art Deco styles of the the late Arts & Crafts period. Notice the absence of stained wood cabinets. Stained wood cabinets in kitchens were rate in the Arts & Crafts period.

For many more vintage advertising illustrations, and expert information on vintage kitchens and baths, we urge you to visit Antique Home Styles.

Altogether, as many as forty different companies were manufacturing Hoosier-style cabinets by 1920. As competition grew, the various manufacturers strove to out do 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.

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 mechanical, wind-up alarm-clock/timer, a coffee-grinder, a mirror and even a desk complete with pigeonholes and a pencil drawer.

Fitted & Built-in Cabinetry

By 1925, however, the boom 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. What knocked Hoosiers out of the box were built-in cabinets, which by the mid-1920s were becoming the 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. 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.

Still, some of of the storage features in these early cabinets was 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.

By today's standards the storage was often 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 usually 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 an Arts & Crafts Kitchen

The late Arts & Crafts kitchen had evolved far beyond the its spare, utilitarian, Victorian beginnings. It had become a efficient meal preparation and cleanup center with cold and dry storage, distinct preparation areas, running water, electricity, and even sanitary waste disposal. General Electric had already invented and was selling the kitchen sink disposer that was later to become a market leader as the "Dispos-all". Still not quite the modern kitchen of today, but very close.

The modern Arts & Crafts kitchen is only a distant relative of the actual kitchens 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. But, it is anything but historically accurate. And, if it were, who would want it?

Fortunately Arts & Crafts kitchens were usually fairly large because as well as cooking and washing up, they were often the place where laundry was done. The sink and washboard gave way to the wringer washer once electricity was available, and the laundry was often moved to a porch or the basement. A built-in drop-down ironing board was a standard feature. With the laundry moved elsewhere in the modern home, the ironing board recess has often been converted to a cup and glassware cupboard or spice cabinet — and in its new role is very functional. The fairly generous footprint of the Arts & Crafts kitchen makes it easier to modernize the kitchen without adding on.

Wall Treatments

By the 1920s and on into the 1930s, hygiene and sanitation were key elements of the Arts & Crafts kitchen. Above all else, any kitchen feature needed to be easily cleaned and unlikely to harbor germs. Ceramic tile was a favored material. A tile wainscot was a common feature — often extending up the wall to as high as 56". Tile was hygienic and easy to keep clean. The walls above the tile were painted in durable, washable enamel paint. Wallpaper in kitchens was not sanitary, and, therefore, less often used. If more decoration was wanted, stencils were used to paint designs on the walls.

Unlike the rest of the house, usually painted in somber earth tones, the most common colors for both tile and paint in kitchens were pastels. Contemporary illustrations show various shades of peach, yellow, pale green and light blue. Many of the colors we usually associate with post-war modernism were already well established in the Arts & Crafts kitchen palette: aqua, turquoise, peach, lemon yellow and nearly every shade of pink. Colors were frequently banded. One color to about midway up the windows, another color up to the top of the window, and a third color in the frieze above the window. Often the color bands were separated by horizontal mouldings. Where a tile wainscot was used, the tile was often bordered in a contrasting color. Peach and aqua were popular combinations.


Original Arts & Crafts kitchens were work rooms where cooking and cleaning up was done. They were not "public" rooms that guests entered, so they were very utilitarian. While the trend today is toward stained fine wood kitchen cabinets, the cabinets of the actual period were usually pine, painted in light, "sanitary" colors. White was by far the most popular — not usually a bright "hospital" white, but a slightly "off white". Variations of white were also used: cream, eggshell, and ivory were very popular.
Recommended Equipment & Labor-Saving Devices
for a Well Equipped Kitchen circa 1919
Agate Ware
• Double boiler
• Colander
• Funnel
• Ladle
• Pie plate, deep
• Pie plate, shallow
• Quart measure
• Sauce Pans
 1 quart
 2 quart
 4 quart
 6 quart
 8 quart
• Skimmer
• Spoon, large

Aluminum Ware
• Percolator
• Coffee pot
• Tea Kettle

• Bottle brush
• Dust brush
• Pastry brush
• Refrigerator brush
• Scrub brush
• Silver brush
• Sink brush
• Vegetable brush

• Butter crock
• Casserole
• Custard cups
• Mixing bowls
• Tea pot
• Steamer
Enamel Ware
• Bowls, small
• Dipper
• Dish pan
• Pitcher
• Platter
• Refrigerator dishes
• Soap dish

• Baking dish
• Butter dish
• Fruit jars
• Lemon squeezer
• Measuring cup
• Spice jars

Iron Ware
• Dripping pan
• Frying pan
• Garbage can (galvanized)
• Griddle
• Kettle for deep fat frying
• Roasting pan
• Soup pot

Japan Ware1
• Bread box
• Cake box
• Dust pan
• Flour bin
• Sugar box
• Breakfast tray

Linens & Cloths
• Chamois skin
• Cheese cloth
• Dish towels
• Dusters
• Floor cloths
• Glass towels2
• Hand Towels
• Holders, soft
• Oven cloths

Silver (Nickel)
• 2 forks
• 3 tablespns
• 4 teaspoons
• 1 half teaspoon

• Bread knife
• Can opener
• Cork screw
• Hammer
• Ice pick
• Knife sharpener
• Meat skewers
• Metal mesh pot cleaner
• Nut cracker
• Paring knife
• Scissors
• Spatula

Tin Ware
• Angel cake tin
• Apple corer
• Biscuit, cookie & doughnut cutters
• Bread pans
• Cake pans
• Flour sifter
• Grater
• Measuring cups
• Muffin tins
• Pastry sheet

Wire Ware
• Basket for deep frying
• Broiler
• Dish drainer
• Potato masher
• Puree sieve
• Sink strainer
• Soap shaker
• Toaster
• Coffee strainer
• Egg beater

Wood Ware
• Bread board
• Chopping bowl
• Dough board
• Ice cream freezer
• knife board
• Towel rack
• Rolling pin
• Salt box
• Spoon
• Step chair
• Table

• Bread mixer
• Cake mixer
• Fireless cooker3
• Meat grinder
• Wheel egg beater
• Coffee mill
• Scales

1 Also: Laquer ware. A hard, multi-layer coat of laquer applied to wood containers. Valued for durability and ease of cleaning. Today's substitute would be plastic.
2 Waffle weave cloth towels though to be especially effective at removing water from glassware.
3 An insulated container capable of maintaining a temperature at which food can continue cooking after removal from the stove or oven. Very popular in the early 1900s to save labor and fuel. Rather like today's crock pots.

The elegant, fine wood cabinets you see in the modern interpretation of the Arts & Crafts kitchen cabinet did not originate in the kitchen, but in the more public living and dining rooms of the period. Fine hardwood was a feature of built-in living room and dining room furniture and fireplace mantels. However, since kitchens now have become public rooms, upgraded cabinet wood is an appropriate interpretation.

The Three Faces of Oak

How oak is sawn affects its appearance and price. Rift oak is characterized by straight, close-set, parallel grain; quartersawn by straight grain with perpendicular "flecks" (sometimes called "flakes"). The darker the wood is stained, the more obvious the flecks become. Flat- or plain-sawn oak has a coarse arched or "cathedral" grain. It is the most common cut because it produces the most usable wood, but it is rarely seen in Arts & Crafts furnishings or cabinets.

Quartersawing wastes more wood and is therefore pricier, but much more authentic. Rift sawn oak is rare. Few logs are deliberately rift sawn. Rift sawn boards are produced in the process of quartersawing. Rift and quarter boards are often mixed together as "quartersawn" oak, so it pays to look at each board before you buy it.
But, whether painted pine or carefully finished hardwoods, Arts & Crafts cabinet styles are distinctive. The cabinets typically feature a flat 1- or 2-panel door with square, unadorned frame. Edge profiling typical of the Victorian era is almost completely absent except in very early kitchens. Raised-panel and flush cabinet doors are inconsistent with the period, as are arched-panel doors. Glass-panel doors are, however, appropriate, especially with art or stained glass. Many architect-designed Prairie-style cabinet doors and drawers are more elaborate, but still rather plain. (For example of Arts & Crafts cabinet doors and drawer fronts, see Cabinet Door Styles.)

Generally, each part of the country used wood that was common to its area. Use of local materials was a key tenet of the Arts & Crafts philosophy. Oak was the most frequent wood of choice in the Midwest: usually red oak, either rift cut or quartersawn. Although major cabinet manufacturers often use flat sawn oak in most of their Craftsman cabinets, it is not actually authentic to the period. Rift or quartersawn elm and chestnut are also good choices.

Adjustable Shelves in 1930

If you think adjustable cabinet shelves are a recent innovation, you'd be wrong. They have been around since cabinets were invented, and without using those tiny, easily-lost metal peg shelf supports.

The sawtooth shelf support is a method of making shelves adjustable that has been in use for hundreds of years. Notched wood supports at each corner hold adjustable cleats on which the shelves rest. Clever, simple to build, sturdier and more secure than today's shelf peg systems, we use the method frequently in period cabinetry for the touch of history it adds to the cabinets.
Cherrywood was not commonly found in Arts & Crafts houses in the Midwest, but was fairly common in the East. Some famous architects used more exotic woods. Cuban mahogany, for example, was the material of choice for most Greene & Greene cabinetry and furnishings in California. Unfortunately Cuban mahogany is now commercially extinct, as is its successor, Honduran mahogany, from overcutting. The "mahogany" available today is usually not a true mahogany, but a wood with a somewhat similar appearance.

Straight-grain, Douglas Fir was a staple of West Coast cabinetry. It was widely used to build period kitchen cabinets because it was cheap at the time, not so any longer. But, it makes a beautiful cabinet and is a basic wood in Japanese cabinetmaking. Light colored woods, such as maple, should be used only if they are painted. Whatever the wood, it should be well figured, high quality wood. The color and grain of the wood was considered all the decoration needed in Arts & Crafts cabinetry.


Early countertops were often linoleum or what was then often called "oil cloth". Linoleum works well as flooring, but it doesn't suffer the kind of abuse a countertop gets, and has to be replaced frequently. It is not a good choice for today's kitchen. Wood countertops were common, especially where any cutting was done. Wood is actually a good countertop material, but it does required periodic maintenance to keep its good looks. If stone was used, it was typically a local stone such as limestone, or, in upscale kitchens, soapstone or slate imported from the East. Artificial stone will work if the color is kept dark to look a little like soapstone or slate.

Laminate countertops also work well. The high-pressure laminate countertop was invented in the early 20th century by Formica, and was the upscale countertop by the 1920s — a notion that is a little hard to believe now — but true. It was used on the Queen Mary and in high end Art Deco retail establishments as the luxury countertop and wall-covering material of the era. It was expensive, but still found its way into many late Arts & Crafts homes, often with wood banding on the edges. All laminate manufacturers make patterns very suited for Arts & Crafts homes. The trick to laminates that look at home in an Arts & Crafts kitchen is to reduce the thickness of 7/8" rather than the "standard 1-1/2". The standard thickness did not become the standard until after 1945 when shop-produced laminate tops became common. The site-fabricated tops of the Arts & Crafts period were likely to be any thickness from 1/2" to 2", but 7/8" seems to have been the most common simply because it was the actual thickness of the 1" nominal lumber at the time.

Zinc was a common countertop treatment during Victorian times, and was carried over into the Arts & Crafts era. Zinc countertops are still being made. As is Monel™, a nickel alloy invented in 1901 and often used in period groceries as a countertop material. Both materials are corrosion resistant, and especially resistant to organic acids (acetic and fatty acids) associated with food. Both will change color with use over time, but afficianadoes of the materials believe that the patina associated with age is part of the charm and warmth of the metals.

The disadvantage of zinc is that it is expensive, and few fabricators are familiar with the material today. The laminate companies have stepped in to fill the gap. Zinc-look laminates are available at reasonable prices, and while not an exact replica, are close enough to make most people look twice.

Ceramic and stone tiles are also a suitable countertop surface. At the time tile was more common for floors, but it does not take much imagination to translate it to countertops. It is generally our preferred choice. With the new care-free urethane grouts and careful setting, it is among the most maintenance-free countertop materials — requiring much less attention than any natural stone. It is also the material that permits the most creativity. There are literally thousands of patterns and colors of ceramic tile, so mix, match and experiment until you get a look you love.

It was common in the early Arts & Crafts period to use tables as work surfaces, and these could have been fitted with an enamel-on-steel working surface. "Porceliron" was a common trade name for the material. Enamel-on-steel tended to chip, so unmarred examples are difficult to find, and auction prices are numbing for exceptional pieces. The working surfaces of Hoosier cabinets were also often enamel-on-steel. Unfortunately, as for as we can tell, none of these materials is available today. (But, if you know of a source, please contact us or leave a comment below.)


The hygiene movement encouraged homeowners to use sanitary surfaces in their homes. Flooring was of particular focus. Christine Frederick, a pioneer home economist of the Arts & Crafts period summed up flooring choices for the "modern" kitchen this way…
"The floor covering of a kitchen should allow complete and easy washing, the surface should not be covered with any porous material which will absorb or stain with grease. Linoleum, tile and a new cork material very restful to the feet are the best coverings; wood is too porous and turns dark and ugly with washing…"
Christine Frederic, The New HouseKeeping New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1913
Many contemporary flooring materials are not appropriate for Arts & Crafts kitchens, but most natural and traditional materials work well. For a complete account of flooring suitable for kitchens and baths, see Flooring Options for Kitchens & Baths.

Wood Flooring

In the immediate post-Victorian period, wood floors were common in kitchens, sometimes shellacked and waxed, sometimes not. Shellac, which is dissolved by alcohol and turns white when wet, was not a very satisfactory finish, but it was what was available. By the 1920s paint companies had begun offering floor varnishes and paints that were more durable. Paints in such hues as orange, brown, gray and maroon were often used to brighten a kitchen and disguise or minimize earlier damage to the kitchen floor.

The sanitation movement, at its height during the Arts & Crafts period, virtually dictated that that kitchen floors be kept hygienic — which meant weekly cleaning and monthly waxing in many homes — a labor-intensive process when waxes had to be polished by hand. There were no low maintenance floors at the time. Yearly re-painting or re-varnishing as part of general Spring Cleaning was encouraged by paint companies — although it was very inconvenient since it usually took more than a week for the paint or varnish to dry and the odor of the high VOC paint and varnish of the time could be suffocating.

Painted floors are not usually durable enough for the modern kitchen, although we have done some. Fortunately modern paints are last longer than those available during the Arts & Craft period, so yearly repainting is no longer required. Painting is especially appropriate where the original flooring is in good shape but stained and discolored to the extent that the wood cannot be restored — pretty much the same reason homeowners painted kitchen floors in the first place. Figure on repainting every three to five years — more often in high traffic areas. Fortunately, today's floor paint dries overnight, and low VOC formulations have virtually eliminated odor.

Hardwood flooring was preferred to softer woods like pine. Hardwood is a good choice for today's kitchen since modern finishes give excellent protection against wear and water damage. It was almost always narrow strip wood. Wide plank flooring was unusual, although frequently seen in reproduced Arts & Crafts kitchens. The floor was rarely stained, although it might be fumed to a very dark, almost black, color. Most of the dark staining we see in old pre-war floors, however, is the result of embedded dirt and darkened varnish. The wood was typically oak, but also elm, chestnut or maple. Maple was particularly popular for kitchens since its closed pore structure prevented stains from penetrating.

The economy flooring in the Midwest was often red oak in 1-1/2" strips just 3/8" thick. We have always been impressed with how well this materials has held up over nearly a century. Dimensioned flooring in this size is still available from our local wood cutters and commercially from Canada.

One of the more interesting discoveries we have made over the years is that there is often a pristine wood strip floor under the many layers of linoleum and vinyl on an Arts & Crafts kitchen floor. We think it is an accident of history. Most of the period houses built around 1927 seem to have had oak kitchen floors, which were almost immediately covered in linoleum — the "miracle" material of the day. What the covering has done is keep the oak in pristine condition, without the wear common to other parts of the house. A few hours work removing the asphalt tile adhesive and some sanding and refinishing results in a floor that looks brand new, even though it is actually nearly 100 years old.

Ceramic & Stone Tile

Stone tile and ceramic tile are good choices for an Arts & Crafts kitchen. Stone fit the Arts & Crafts preference for natural materials. Ceramic tile works best if it looks like stone The brightly color floor tile that was frequently used in post-war modern kitchens was less frequently used in Arts & Crafts kitchen, more in bathrooms. But, it was used here and there especially toward the end of the era when what we think of as Post-War modern kitchens were already being featured in period magazines in bright and pastel colors. Stone tile includes marble, slate, and limestone. Slate and limestone were most popular. Marble was less commonly used in kitchens (but often a feature of upscale baths). Marble and limestone are vulnerable to scratching, cracking, and other wear. Granite, the hardest stone used today, ware rare in the Arts & Crafts period since it was difficult to work with the tools available at the time. Some stones commonly used for countertops, such as soapstone, are too soft for use on a floor.

The disadvantage of natural stone and unglazed tile is that they need a surprising amount of regular maintenance. Stone and unglazed tile needs to be kept clean and dry, and it needs to be resealed regularly. Manufacturers usually recommend that it be resealed annually, but it may be necessary more often in high-traffic areas — as often as every three months in a busy kitchen. So, our first choice for a stone look is usually low-maintenance glazed tile made to look like stone, especially the slates and limestone.


True linoleum is also an authentic and excellent choice. Genuine linoleum was the original sheet flooring material, first patented by Englishman Frederick Walton in 1863. Although some people still call all sheet floors "linoleum," the real thing is quite different from petroleum-based sheet vinyl floors that are the modern replacement for linoleum.

Its name derives from its main ingredient, linseed oil. (In Latin, linum is the word for linseed and oleum means oil.) The oil is boiled, mixed with melted resins, and combined with powdered cork, wood flour, ground limestone, and other natural materials. Mineral pigments provide the color. This mixture is formed into a durable sheet by applying heat and pressure. Through most of the Arts & Crafts period, linoleum would have been the first choice for an upscale "modern"kitchen. Vinyl sheet flooring can simulate linoleum, but it is difficult to reproduce the original linoleum texture and finish in vinyl, so substitutes are not always entirely convincing.

The Arts & Crafts Society offers a slide show of linoleum patterns common in the 1930s. While most of these are no longer made, the show gives you a good idea of what your great-grandmother thought was trendy and modern. Today's linoleum usually has much less dramatic patterns and more neutral colors.


Many people believe cork to be a relative fragile material and are surprised to see cork listed as one of the original Art & Crafts flooring materials. In fact, cork used in flooring is very robust and has a long history as a resilient flooring going back to the early Victorian period. It reached its zenith in 1927 when 2.9 million square feet of cork floors were sold. It is very durable. The cork floor in the lobby of the Department of Commerce building in Washington, D.C., installed in 1930, is still in use today, as is the cork floor specified by Frank Lloyd Wright for his "Fallingwater" house in Pennsylvania in 1935.

Cork was not only the first, but is in many ways the best resilient flooring for a kitchen. Due to its unique cellular structure (about 2.4 million air-filled cells per cubic inch), cork is a very resilient floor. It has a little "give" and feels soft to the foot. Yet it is extremely tough and durable. Modern finishes give cork a high level of protection from dirt and chemicals, and cork is naturally waterproof. Its cellular structure prevents it from absorbing water, which is why it was the original material for fishing bobbers and life vests. With proper care, cork floors last 100+ years, and if damaged, can be easily repaired, although most cork afficianados don't bother — a little scratch or gouge just adds to the patina.

Cork is also the "greenest" flooring available. It is completely sustainable and renewable. Cork is the bark of the Cork Oak tree. The tree, grown predominately in Europe and North Africa, has a life span ranging from 150-200 years. Cork is harvested using methods that have remained virtually unchanged since the uses of cork were first discovered. Once the tree has reached maturity (typically 25 years), the first harvest of cork bark is removed from the tree. The process is repeated at intervals of nine years (the minimum interval required by law), at no time affecting the health of the tree. During each harvest, no more than 50% of the bark is removed, allowing the tree to protect itself using its natural defenses.

To produce cork flooring, waste cork bark left over from making wine corks, is ground into small granules. The granules are baked under pressure in molds at varying temperatures producing shade variations in the finished tile product. A dye may also be applied, but most of the color you see in cork is just the result of baking. The cork slab is then cut into slabs, smoothed and finished with several applications of polyurethane or some other durable coating. The coating adds to the natural resistance of the cork to dirt and stains. Damp mopping with a mild detergent is all that is required to maintain a cork floor. Cork does not stain easily nor require cleaning with harsh chemicals.


The toughest part of reproducing an Arts & Crafts kitchen are the appliances. Electric appliances from the period are available here and there, and many in working order. But, as a practical matter, we don't want them in our modern kitchen because they just don't work as well as modern electric appliances. Nor are they very efficient. In fact a small five cubic foot GE Monitor refrigerator is so inefficient that it takes more electricity to operate than a modern 36" side-by-side refrigerator with four times the capacity (and an ice maker). Since, in the end, a kitchen is a work room where the tasks of preparing and serving food are done, we don't want any notions of rigid authenticity to interfere with the process.

Original Period Appliances

Still, there are ways in incorporating modern appliances without destroying the special look and feel of a period kitchen. Essentially these boil down to four approaches.

The first is using an actual period appliance.

Some pre-war appliances can be used in their original form, or modernized with new innards to keep the look of the period with the convenience of modern functionality. Gas ranges fit nicely into this category. The technology of using natural gas to produce heat has not changed much in 100 years. All it takes is a supply of gas, and a burner. The modern burner is not very different from the burners used 100 years ago. The big improvement is that modern burners are sealed so that any spills stay on top of the stove instead of migrating inside. The other significant change is the safety and reliability of ignition. Today we use electric ignition. Our grandparents used kitchen matches or a pilot light — not nearly as safe. However, it is not a difficult process to add modern electric ignition and sealed burners to a period stove. It's a little more complicated to modify an old range to use electricity, but again it is possible. We much prefer, however, to stick with gas. Gas cooks better (which is why almost all professional chef stoves are gas) and is more authentic to the period.

Reproduction Appliances

The second alternative is to find a modern appliance that looks like it could have been around in the 1920's and 30s. There are such things, but they're not made by GE, LG or Amana; or, in fact, any other appliance maker you have ever heard of. They are made by small companies like Big Chill and Elmira Stove Works. Some reproductions are totally convincing. Some less so. Modern ranges and wall ovens with 1920s styling are virtually indistinguishable from the original, and fit right into an Arts & Crafts kitchen. The differences are apparent only when the appliance is in use and the modern electronic controls and ventilation systems are exposed.

Other appliances like dishwasher panels and microwaves are less successful. Nothing makes a microwave look like it belongs in an Arts & Crafts kitchen. The best solution for a microwave is to hide it in a cabinet. Similarly, a retro dishwasher panel looks like… Well, we're not really sure what it looks like, but it does not look like it should be there. We suggest using reproductions for ranges and ovens, and leaving dishwashers and microwaves to be handled in a different manner.

Hiding & Disguising Appliances

Which brings us to our third approach: hiding. Hiding works well for dishwashers. A panel that looks like the rest of the cabinet doors can be made that is very good at concealing the fact that the "cabinet" is actually a modern dishwasher. Generally dishwashers must be designed to accommodate wood panels for this approach to work well. Hiding also works for microwaves, which can be built into a cabinet and concealed behind a cabinet door when not in use.

Refrigerators, however, are more difficult to hide. They are simply much too large to look convincing in an Arts & Crafts kitchen, so we try to move them out of the kitchen into an adjacent pantry or mud room where possible. If that's not possible, we disguise them behind panels to make them look sort of like they might be tall cupboards or antique ice boxes. A great deal can be done with standard commercial refrigerator panels. It may still look like a refrigerator, just a less obtrusive refrigerator.

Using Modern Appliances

The final appliance option is to simply use modern appliances. Ok, it's not strictly to period, but, so what? A kitchen is not a museum. It needs first and foremost to be fully functional. Style comes in at a distant second. If it takes modern appliances to get to full functionality on your remodeling budget, so be it. If any of your family, friends or neighbors are offended by your lack of pure historic authenticity, ban them from your kitchen. There, problem solved.

One big advantage of staying with strictly modern appliances is that they are a lot cheaper. Many of the retro-look appliances available on the market cost two or even three times the price of a non-retro-look equivalent appliance. So, sacrificing a little authenticity for a leaner budget is, for many homeowners, a sterling idea.

Small Appliances

Small appliances can be more easily integrated into your heritage Arts & Crafts kitchen, simply because there are scads of modern appliances designed to look vintage. The iconic Sunbeam ToastMaster automatic toaster has been reproduced in more or less authentic styling by a number of different companies, as has the old Sunbeam MixMaster. Some small appliances have not changed in appearance in 100 years, and the modern version is still right at home in an Arts & Crafts kitchen. The most notable of these is probably the Kitchen Aid mixer. It has looked exactly the same since 1919, and fits right into any kitchen of almost any period.

Coffee makers are a little bit of a problem. These things seem to be almost uniformly starkly modern, stainless and glass contraptions. But, the one thing you don't want to do is buy a percolator, vintage or otherwise. These things make truly terrible coffee.

There are a few options. Kenwood has gotten into the business of making retro-look appliances, and one of its more successful efforts is its coffee makers and espresso machines. The Kenwood Mix line of retro appliances includes a coffee emaker that looks like what an coffee maker could have looked like if there had been automatic coffee makers 80 years ago. For espresso and cappuccino fans, there is the Kenwood Cafe Retro espresso machine. Both in stainless and ten retro colors.

Most Requested Feature

We have never seen an original Arts & Crafts kitchen cabinet with a glass door. But, glass doors were common in built-in dining room breakfronts. Kitchen designers simply adopted the style of of these glass doors and Craftsman windows to kitchen cabinets. Glass is common in reproduction Arts & Crafts kitchens, particularly stained or art glass in Arts & Crafts and Art Deco designs.

It may not be original, but it is authentic, and the most requested kitchen feature of Arts & Crafts kitchen renovations. Put a little low-voltage light inside the cabinets, and you have a built-in display case for grandma's Irish china.

The Arts & Crafts Bath

In the early part of the Arts & Crafts era, the bath was merely a continuation of the Victorian bathroom with its stand-alone claw-foot tub and wall-mounted lavatory sink. This was often a very monochromatic room — with a subway tile wainscot, white floor tile and…
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Carpenter's Gator-Aid*
The pick-me-up that never fails
Prep: 4 min. Total: 4 min. Cost: 18¢/serving | 72¢/gallon.
4 qts ice water
1 pkg Lime Kool-Aid
1 pkg Lemon Kool Aid
Sugar (to taste)
1 tbs salt
1 tsp potassium chloride (i.e. Morton Salt Substitute or Lite Salt)
Preparation: Add ingredients to one-gallon Igloo® cooler (or pitcher); stir until well blended.

Serving Suggestion: Serve chilled or over ice.

Options: Any other Kool-Aid flavor can be substituted for a different taste experience. We especially like watermelon.
Servings: 4 servings, 1 qt. each
(Enough for 1 carpenter for 1 summer day.)
* Not to be confused with the registered trade name GatorAde®, owned by Pepsi, which, in powdered form, costs about $4.00 per gallon. In ready mixed bottles, between $8.00 and $12.00 per gallon. Its chief rival in convenience store coolers is Coca-Cola's Powerade®, about the same price.
† ;To learn more about Kool-Aid, visit the Hastings Museum.
1. The results of Upton Sinclair's undercover investigation of the meat packing industry were published in his novel, The Jungle in 1905. Outraged public reaction compelled President Theodore Roosevelt to send federal inspectors to meat packing plants, and what they found resulted in the Meat Inspection and the Pure Food and Drug Acts of 1906 that created the Food and Drug Administration to ensure food safety.

Sinclair's was neither the first nor the last expose that finally compelled the government to take remedial action. Rachel Carson's The Silent Sprint virtually created the the grass roots environmental movement and led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency — one of the government's better ideas. The 1965 publication of Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed led Congress to unanimously pass the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act establishing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and marked a historic shift in responsibility for automobile safety from the consumer to the manufacturer which still exists today.

But, of course, the ultimate exposé novel is still Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe published in 1852. The book's emotional portrayal of the impact of slavery aroused abolitionist sentiment in the North and enraged the South, eventually leading to civil war and the abolition of chattel slavery in all of the United States and its territories.
2. The shape of the refrigerator reminded GE engineers of the Civil War gunboat, the USS "Monitor", which defeated the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac) in the first battle between ironclad ships in history, and the most famous naval battle of the Civil War. The Monitor was a radical innovation in naval ship architecture that was despised by most sailing ship officers, and called, among other unflattering names "a cheesebox on a raft". Nonetheless, its rotating gun turret and iron armor became the model for future naval warship design that persists even today.
3. Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Encyclopedia of Kitchen History, New York: Taylor & Francis, 2004.
4. In Canada the cheese is "Canadian Cheese".
5. Emil Frey, a Swiss cheese maker developed Velveeta originally as a way to use left over Swiss cheese. He added back some of the whey produced when making cheese to give the product more "creaminess". Sold to Kraft Cheese in 1927, Kraft kept the name, but reformulated the product to use American Cheese.
6. Chapman, Sasha "Manufacturing Taste", The Walrus, September, 2012.
7. Kool-Aid originally sold for 10¢, but the price was reduced to 5¢ during the Depression to generate more demand. Unlike most products, Kool-Aid has decreased in real cost over the years. It is now selling for about 25¢ in today's inflated dollars, which equals a single 1933 penny. (Inflation calculations courtesy the U.S. Inflation Calculator.)
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