Arts & Crafts Kitchens
The Birth of the Modern Kitchen
When we first started building kitchens many years ago, no one wanted an Arts & Crafts look. They wanted to replace their Arts & Crafts kitchen with something "modern". We spent hours talking Bungalow owners out of colonial-style and country kitchens — then all the rage.
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 if for no other reason than much of the technology we take for granted now did not exist then.
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 early part of the Arts & Crafts 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 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. Technologies such as electricity led to home refrigeration and powered appliances that had enormous influence on kitchen work and on how kitchen were outfitted and organized. Commercial refrigeration that allowed fresh food to be transported across the country and safely stored for days and weeks radically changed the Amerian diet, food preparation and kitchen storage needs.
Social and cultural trends also had substantial impact. The demand for improved hygiene and sanitation that began in the Victorian Era reached its zenith during the Arts & Crafts period. It influenced the materials and fixtures deemed suitable for kitchen. The push for better organization and time management, which also took its first hesitant steps during Victorian times, came into full flower after 1900, propelled by the efforts of pioneering home economists.
Food safety laws starting in 1910 helped ensure that prepared foods were safe for the first time in American history and resulted a growing abundance of easy-to-prpare foods that not only reduced a homemaker's time in the kitchen but enabled her to provide healthier and less expensive meals for her family.
All of these sometimes tidal changes had their impact on the design and orgaization of home kitchen so that by the end of the Arts & Crafts period, kitchen that were recognizeably modern had already come into being, preparing for the avalanche of modern kitchen that were features of the post-war housing boom.
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 all things "green", in the 1920s and '30s it was everything "hygienic".
All manner of products were suddenly "cleaner", "healthier", "more sanitary" and even "sterile"; or at very least "polished", "sparkling" or "gleaming". Listerine was essential for clean breath, and Johnson Wax for sanitary floors — which were not really clean unless they were "Spic 'n Span®".
Warnings against the more odious personal habits, such as spitting on the sidewalk ("You cannot expect to rate if you expectorate!") appeared on trams, billboards and posters, alongside exhortations to weekly bathing, and daily teeth cleaning. Spitoons disappeared from restaurants, bars and hotel lobbies almost overnight. In 1890 they were everywhere, by 1910 they had become curiosities.
Massive public works projects provided clean water to almost every city and town in North America during the lat Victorian Era, and sanitary sewer systems made the flushing toilet a ubiquity rather than a novelty by 1900. Sanitary improvements continued throughout the Arts & Crafts period. By its end in 1940 rare was the urban household that did not have running water, and households in rural areas were quickly catching up due to New Deal programs that brought modern amenities to American farmers.
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 banished 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.
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.
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 use in the home arrived in 1910. They were retrofitted to existing 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. 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 Model A for about the same price.
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 grew large enough to hold ice cream and frozen foods.
The original coolant was sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas, but one that smells so vile you would have plenty of time to escape after one whiff. Other early refrigerators used methyl chloride, also lethal, but odorless.
By the middle of the 1930s most companies had adopted dichlorodifluoromethane (Freon® R-12), a stable non-toxic gas, used until it was outlawed in the 1970's because the chlorine in its formula depleted the ozone layer of the atmosphere. The current refrigerant is HFC-134a 1,1,1,2-Tetrafluoroethane), which uses fluorine in place of chlorine and has no known adverse health or environmental effects.
By the late 1930's Frigidaire dominated much of the market. The Frigidaire name became so closely associated with home refrigeration that it eventually became a part of the vernacular. In many places in the U.S., particularly in the Old South, a refrigerator is a "frigidaire" irrespective of who makes it. Frigidaire is no longer a company. It 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.
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.
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.
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.
Self service was an immediate success, including innovations such as,
- A marked price on every item,
- Shopping baskets (later rolling carts),
- Easily identifiable uniformed employees,
- Like-kind products grouped together in standardized locations making them easier to find in any Piggly-Wiggly store,
- Multiple brands of the same product, so shoppers would have a choice.
The new retail format forced national brands to pay more attention to product packaging so products would attract a shopper's eye. Before 1916 product packaging was 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.
The milkman delivered not just milk and cream, but many other products that needed to be chilled: eggs, cheese, butter, yogurt, fruit juice and sometimes soft drinks. His daily rounds saved the busy homemaker the bother of a trip to the grocery for perishables. All she needed to do was display the milk card in her front window to order exactly what she needed that day. Many period homes were equipped with a "milk door": a small door that opened directly onto the kitchen countertop where the milkman deposited his delivery. The milk door allowed safe deliveries even if the homemaker was absent
The white-uniformed Good Humor Man in his jingling ice-cream wagon became an icon of American pop culture and a summer-day hero to every kid with a nickel in his pocket. 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.
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.
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 called at the time, meant that a typical homemaker did most of the domestic chores herself, as well as watching the children and taking care of the garden. These added roles meant that it would not be possible to use most of the day preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals. In response, the Arts & Crafts housewife was quick to adopt almost any labor-saving device or practice that reduced her time in the kitchen.
The push for a better organized life ("A place for everything, and everything in its place") started during Colonial times, but peaked 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 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
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 survived her husband by nearly 50 years, and living long enough to see most of her "radical" notions about home efficiency and kitchen organization become basic design principles.
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:
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.
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....")
Ode to SPAM
And Grant his precious rye;
Teddy had his poisoned beef —
Worse you couldn’t buy.
The doughboy had his hardtack
Without the navy’s jam,
But armies on their stomachs move —
And this one moves on SPAM.
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 Marianas, 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-Fans. 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.
In South Korea, SPAM approaches a near exalted status, especially among those who lived through the Korean "Police Action" 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-vasion, 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, sustaining a demand that has ensured 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 a workingman's lunch box.
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 while 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 I (Eye) Corps During th Viet Nam war, 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 home 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.
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 kitchen .)
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 which, in turn, led to the first publication of The Kitchen Design Guidelines in 1949 and the Handbook of Kitchen Design in 1950.
Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky: The Frankfurt Kitchen
The Europeans, too, were developing new ideas for kitchen efficiency and organization, especially the Germans who in the mid-1920s were suffering through a critical working-class housing shortage. In 1926 Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky was commissioned to design an efficient small kitchen for a working-class apartment development in Frankfurt.
Borrowing ideas from Bauhaus designer Benita Koch-Otte, Christine Frederick'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 kitchen 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 kitchen 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 kitchen 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 kitchen 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 kitchen 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.
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.
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 kitchen) for evaluation, and the best ones appeared on recipe cards and in various company-published cookbooks. By the mid-1930s you could buy a set of Bisquick recipes from General Mills on convenient cards, complete with a handy and colorful metal box to put them in. By some estimates there are now well over 10,000 published recipes featuring Bisquick as a main ingredient.
Kellogg's Corn Flakes was already a breakfast staple just a few years after its introduction in 1906 and Wheaties, endorsed by major sports figures of the period, became the "Breakfast of Champions" in 1928. 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.
"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.
Dry processed cereal is still the basic American breakfast, and, unless eggs and bacon learn to cook themselves, it is not likely to be unseated any time soon.
The venerable soup pot simmering on the stove had almost completely disappeared from American kitchens by the 1920s, replaced by Campbell's condensed canned soups.
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 in 1937 by its flagship product, SPAM.
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 as the "Miraclee Meat", 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 averting mass starvation in war-devastated Europe and the U.S.-occupied Pacific islands of the former Japanese Empire.
SPAM had a loyal market in the U.S. after the World War. Many of the thirteen million returning war veterans discovered that they retained a taste for the military's often castigated "mystery meat", and provided Hormel with a massive consumer base for SPAM. It became one of the iconic foods of the post-War period, and SPAMwiches a staple of every workingman's lunch pail.
American 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 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.
The Army's 70-Year Affair with Processed American Cheese
A modified form of American cheese, packaged in the familiar foil wrapper and yellow box, was christened "Velveeta". It was originally a processed Swiss cheese invented by Emil Frey, a Swiss-born cheese maker. After Kraft bought Velveeta Cheese Company5 in 1928, everything but the name was discarded and Velveeta was reformulated as a creamier version of American cheese that melted into a smooth sauce.
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, "Granddad to two-year olds" claimed a kraft advertisement. But, it is no longer cheese — at least not according to the FDA which has declared it 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, as a matter of law, 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 firmly embedded in American culinary culture. By USDA estimates, American cheese still accounts for a full third of all cheese sold in the U.S.
In 1928 Gerber Products Company introduced its pre-cooked, pureed baby foods with "heat and eat" simplicity, eliminating the time-consuming and labor-intensive process of boiling, mashing and straining food for the baby.
Invented by cannery owner Daniel F. Gerber to feed his own baby, the strained, baby- and mother-friendly, fruits and vegetables (initially peas, prunes, carrots and spinach) forever changed how infants are fed in the U.S. and Canada (and gave every North American child an instinctive loathing 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. A traditinal English dish that had appeared in cookbooks at least since Elizabeth Raffald's The Experienced English Housekeeper in 1770, it was time consuming to make and bake from scratch.
Kraft cut preparation from hours to minutes — "a meal for 4 in 9 minutes for about 19¢", according to the blurb on the box — by combining dry macaroni with a sealed package of powdered American cheese in a box that could be kept on the shelf for ten months or longer. Eight million boxes were sold the first year it appeared on grocery shelves. During 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-n-cheese", the ultimate "comfort food". In fact, Americans consume a whopping 700 million boxes of mac-n-cheese each year or about 2.0 boxes per person, which, one would think, should make Americans the world-champion mac-n-cheesers.
We're barely in the running. Canadians are the titleholding man-n-cheese consumers, and have been since forever — downing a whopping 3.2 boxes of Mac and Cheese per person each year, which is 1.7 million boxes each week.
The product still goes by its original name in Canada: "Kraft Dinner", and it is often eaten with a liberal dose of ketchup. 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 We dont' get the ketchup business, but otherwise: Canada, you rock!
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 who found its nearly foolproof simplicity a compelling addition to the family dinner menu.
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 (lemon, orange, 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 kitchen 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" kitchen (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.
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 (and sometimes improved on) Mcquinn's design. The Coppes Bros. & Zook Co. of Nappanee, Indiana, began offering the Napanee Dutch Kitchenet around 1913. (According to Coppes historian, Bill Warner, the single "p" in Napanee was deliberate. At the time "the proper name of a city could not be used in a trademarked name". Hence one "p" rather than "pp" in Napanee of Nappanee, Indiana). The 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.
From Coppes historian, Bill Warner:
Exerpt from The evolution of industry by Henry Dyer, Vance Publishing Corp, 1995. Available from The Free Library by Farlex"
In 1876, the company that later spawned two manufacturers of kitchen cabinetry, Coppes, Zook & Mutschler, was founded in Nappanee, Indiana, as a manufacturer of wood dining and bedroom furniture and tables for "the office and home." The companies separated in 1914 into Mutschler Bros. Co. and Coppes Brothers & Zook (Coppes subsequently bought out Zook to become Coppes, Inc.; the company endures to this day as Coppes Napanee Co., a manufacturer of custom kitchen cabinetry).
As Mutschler, along with its "sister company" in the remarkable Indiana nexus of the 1920s, responded to the demand for kitchen cabinetry, it also became a leader in transferring the porcelain-enamel work surfaces common to early kitchen cabinets to what became extremely important products in the burgeoning kitchen "furniture" industry – the kitchen worktable. Its line of "Porce-Namel" tables with the "LAFLAT" top boasted in promotional literature to be "in a class of the higher grades of living and bedroom furniture." The line later was extended to include "Porce-Namel Table Cupboards," incorporating new, popular dish and broom cupboards "with three-coat enamel finish throughout."
In 1933, Mutschler Bros. introduced the first built-in cabinets under the "Porta-Bilt" banner. A premise behind the concept and the name was that homeowners would buy cabinets, install them in their homes, and then take the cabinets with them when they moved, a practice common in Europe to this day. Also prompting the line's development was the trend, starting around 1920, for built-in rather than free-standing cabinetry. The "Porta-Bilt" line of 23 cabinet bases, wall and tall utility cupboards were "engineered ... to fit almost any space (according to) the requirements of the purchaser (and) designed to sell portably, could be sold on an easy step-by-step basis, one section or as little as one piece at a time right off the floor." Retailers could stock and sell a few pieces or the entire line.
Coppes started in 1876 with a sawmill and has been in continuous operation ever since. Coppes Commons is now leasing retail space, offering meeting areas for events such as weddings, etc. in the restored factory buildings. Also, we collect the Hoosier kitchen cabinets that were made in this factory and display them in our Coppes kitchen Cabinet Museum in a second-floor room.
We have found the names of 34 different companies that offered kitchen cabinets that could be labeled Hoosiers, most were in or near Indiana which helped the Hoosier name stick to this style of cabinet. The age-old question that everyone wants answered is which company was earliest in manufacturing "Hoosier" cabinets and which company made the most cabinets. I can only speak for Coppes Commons, hopefully someone with factual information will add their knowledge to the discussion.
In Nappanee, Indiana there was an existing furniture company that was making and selling tall stand-alone kitchen cabinets as early as 1897 (we have the catalog). This company was named Nappanee Furniture Co. and was directed by Albert and Charles Mutschler. I personally give the credit for developing the early kitchen cabinet here in Nappanee to Albert and Charles. In 1902, the Nappanee Furniture Co. joined with Coppes Bros. & Zook and started to concentrate on manufacturing kitchen cabinets. Around 1913 the partnership had a friendly split with the Coppes & Zook Co. keeping and enlarging the kitchen cabinet business. The Mutschler Brothers Company went on to become a major producer of modern kitchen.
In our collection, we have a ledger book from 1924, in that one year Coppes Bros. & Zook produced and sold 74,000 Hoosier style cabinets (I counted them), and continued to offer Hoosier style cabinets until the early 1940s. As the kitchen cabinet style changed in the early 30s, Coppes, like other cabinet companies, began adding wall mounted cabinets and base units in their catalogs.
Here in Nappanee we like to think of our two local kitchen cabinet factories as an additional reason for Nappanee being world famous.
Thank You, hope you will visit our web site and our museum.
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 must-have standard in most new kitchens and the envy of every homemaker with an older kitchen who aspired to the new style kitchen with numerous fitted cabinets pictured in glossy period magazines. For a few dollars more than the cost of a Hoosier she could have a kitchen full of built-in cabinets. 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 were ingenious: adjustable shelves, slide-out trays on wooden glides, fresh bread drawers with zinc lids and pull-out cutting boards were common, and often cleverly designed and well-built — very well-built as anyone who has ever had to tear out these cabinets will readily, but unhappily, attest.
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 the Arts & Crafts Kitchen
The modern Arts & Crafts kitchen is only a distant relative of the actual kitchen of the Arts & Crafts period. In fact, the contemporary kitchen is more accurately a modern kitchen in the Arts & Crafts style. What kitchen designers have done is take the best design elements of the Arts & Crafts house and combine them with modern kitchen features to produce a hybrid kitchen that looks and feels like it could have been completely at home in an Arts & Crafts house. . . . (Continues)