I think most of us have heard of the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet, right? (There is one on display at the President Benjamin Harrison Home, if I’m not mistaken.) Thumbing through Good Housekeeping from 1919, there were advertisements not only for the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet, but others as well. Also for early refrigerators, hailing from elsewhere around our great state. Seems a number of such companies existed in the midwest…

Apologies for the image quality, but you see the main office for the Hoosier Manufacturing Company was in New Castle, Indiana.

Offices in San Francisco and Canada, too? Over 1.5 million Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets sold? In 1919? That’s pretty impressive.

Fascinating marketing angle on the competing Frankfort, Indiana “McDougall- The First Kitchen Cabinet.” Were bachelors clamoring for an effective kitchen cabinet? Are my presumptions incorrect that men would usually find a woman to cook for him or would just eat out?

We think we are under pressure from advertising today? Read the above hard sell from Sellers and you wonder if you’re looking for kitchen furniture or joining a culinary-inclined cult. Way to go, Elwood, Indiana.

Had to throw in a couple refrigerator adverts as well–especially this one with the fascinating statistics. (Again apologies on the blurry bits) McCray Refrigerator Company was located in Kendallville, Indiana–almost into Michigan. One presumes proximity to the Great Lakes may in part explain the reason for so many early refrigerator manufacturers being located in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana.

Lined with snow white opal glass? Wow, must have been beautiful. And as a friend pointed out, far more sanitary than a zinc or other metal-lined one.

And finally, for fun, one from neighbors directly north of us in Michigan, the Leonard. Which cabinet and which refrigerator would you have chosen from these? Or do you know of another?

7 responses to “Sunday Adverts: Hoosier Kitchens, Cabinets, and Refrigerators in 1919”

  1. Matt B. says:

    My grandfather, on my Mom’s side of the family, worked for Hoosier Cabinet in New Castle. I don’t know exactly what he did, but it was in the factory.

  2. Donna Winsted says:

    Great ads!!! We didn’t have a refrigerator until 1949 – we relied on our old ice box – and I was the one who had to empty the water pan underneath as the ice melted! I LOVED that first (Philco) refrigerator!!! 😀

  3. Molly Head says:

    How can people get in such a tizzy about Hoosier cabinets? After I heard Nancy Hiller, author of The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History (IU Press) and a Bloomington cabinetmaker, talk about their social history with Nelson Price on Hoosier History Live! (radio show), I called my friend Glynis, who has a “Sellers” in her 1920’s era kitchen. Her kitchen is so crammed with stuff that you can hardly realize that there is a valuable antique in there. Glynis had listened to the show sticking her radio out the back window; she lives in country about 50 miles from WICR’s radio tower. (Modern humans can hear the show online anywhere as it airs, but Glynis is no-tech.)
    Later I proceeded to get into an email war with a former “girl reporter” (that’s what women reporters were called in the ‘40s) of the long defunct newspaper Indianapolis Times, who had sent me some cockamamie story about Hoagie Carmichael’s grandfather having “invented” the first built-in Hoosier cabinet. My grandparents home had a “built in” cabinet in their 1920’s bungalow home in Decatur, Illinois.
    As I learned on the show, these marvelous inventions were marketed in the early part of the 20th century as “a boon to women.” And they sold like hot cakes. They had spice racks, storage bins, a built-in flour sifter, a pull-out counter. You could sit down in front of them to do your work. They centralized the food storage and preparation area, saving many steps. More than 2 million Hoosier cabinets had been sold by 1920, meaning that they could be found in one in ten American homes. (photo from Wiki) One old ad showed that “Lincoln had freed the slaves, and now the Hoosier has freed the housewife from unnecessary drudgery!” Yes, I did see that ad somewhere on the internet, but now I can’t find it now! Maybe it is in Nancy’s book.
    Now, I reflect that, for the last fifteen years or so, designer kitchens, food prep, gardening, kitchen gadgets, and haute cuisine seem to be absolutely the yuppie, upscale thing. Having all the right stuff in your kitchen tells people that you have “arrived.” (Where, exactly, I’m not quite sure.) Friends of mine continually get kidded about their solid cherry designer kitchen cabinets and granite counter tops, which set them back about 50K. Their cherry cabinets were ruined by flood, but those granite counter tops remained intact, by God, and will eventually be moved to their new retirement home!
    Me? I am barely a cook, and I lasted about 48 hours after my microwave pooped out, after which I went to Goodwill to get a replacement. I mean, I’m not s’posed to live like a frigging pioneer, am I? The thing I don’t get about the new trendy kitchens is that they all have this single, huge, “farmhouse” kitchen sink, always in copper or burnished brass or something appropriately foo foo What is that about, really? I mean, even I can admit that a stainless steel double sink, where one can use one sink for rinsing and one for washing, with one side having a disposal, is actually a pretty practical thing. So, isn’t the huge single sink a step back?
    I felt almost lazy when I heard about many of the Hoosier pioneers arriving on foot. It was often their kitchen gear and valuables in their wagons, not them. It’s really not that long ago! And back to my grandmother actually having her own “built in” Hoosier kitchen in her house in Decatur, Illinois in the 1920’s . . . what an absolute boon that was to her! In her own house, along with the sink, stove, dining room, living room, three bedrooms, detached garage, and a bathroom indoors! She had grown up on a dairy farm in Michigan, one of nine children, and when they washed dishes they did not use soap because the dishwater scraps were fed to the pigs, and the pigs would not eat soapy food.
    Now, that’s a flash back in time, and to my own sense of what’s important. I guess people can get in a tizzy about Hoosier cabinets!

  4. Linda b. says:

    Love these antique adverts. A wonderful window into past re: attitudes about home, women, work, salesmanship, food, and societal values. Fascinating to see that women’s roles of a century ago have been revived and resumed by modern women themselves rather than being imposed upon them by men.

  5. Tiana Galloway says:

    This is a wonderfully interesting article! We have been renting a house for five years and for the last ten months have been renovating a different house that was built in 1937. My husband is a cabinet maker and one of my desires for our kitchen is a built-in hoosier. (I’m purposely not capitalizing it- I use it as a common noun) SO, when friends come by and I tell them the plan for that particular wall in the kitchen, ” A hoosier cabinet”, I get a blank stare EVERY TIME. Not a single person has ever heard of it. That’s how I came across your article and I’d love to share it, if that’s acceptable to you.

    I find these old ads quite comical. I love how they dramatically state the great amount of drudgery to be saved. There is truth in this, which is why I am having one in my kitchen- everything I need for baking all in one spot! I have cooked in the homes of several friends where I would have go across the room to get the salt, then across to the pantry to get the baking powder… too many steps!

    I also find it interesting in some of these ads how they were geared towards the men. Do you think it was because the men were the money-spenders?

    i also love what is revealed about the culture at that time: “It enables a hungry man to find lunch when he wants to because he knows where to look for it.”~Refrigerator Ad; “scientifically designed” or “scientifically arranged”; your kitchen “must be modern if you are to share life’s pleasures with husband and friends”.

    Being married to a custom cabinet builder, I have learned a lot about standard features and high-end designs. There is something else I noticed when reading these ads. Standard cabinets in cookie-cutter homes have stationary shelves or, at most, adjustable shelving. These ads show us that even before homes came with cabinets, someone knew how to create efficiency- they contained what is now considered to be high-end features in a kitchen: lower cabinet pull-outs to make access to pots easier (automatic base shelf extender), tambour doors (auto front). One feature that not even modern kitchens have is the automatic lowering flour bin. Does anyone even have a flour bin anymore? I’ve seen some have a drawer dedicated to holding flour which is not much different from using a five-gal bucket because you’re still scooping the flour out. And actually, the bucket would be easier to clean if need be. I, personally, would love to have the upper flour bin in my hoosier, but instead of pursuing that I’m putting my microwave there!

    I think that today we all take for granted that houses come with cabinets. We have lived with modern conveniences for so long that there are only a few living survivors from the time when domestic work was really hard. This is probably why none of my friends have even heard of a hoosier cabinet. Yet they were the beginning of our modern kitchens.

    Glad I came across your article!

    W/a Smile, Tiana

  6. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    Thanks for sharing, Tiana. Please let me know what you mean when you say you’d love to share the article. There are Facebook and twitter share buttons above the article, fyi.

  7. Tiana says:

    On Facebook is what I was thinking.

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