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Modern Kitchen: 1940

April 17, 1940. When enameled steel was sexy. "Electric Institute of Washington. Display of ranges in lobby at Potomac Electric Power Co. building." 8x10 acetate negative by Theodor Horydczak. View full size.

April 17, 1940. When enameled steel was sexy. "Electric Institute of Washington. Display of ranges in lobby at Potomac Electric Power Co. building." 8x10 acetate negative by Theodor Horydczak. View full size.


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Truly Modern Envy

The lovely enamelled metal looks so long-lasting and easy to clean. And the look is timeless. Substitute a gas stove and I'm happy.

Our cabinets

Our cabinets are still going strong 60 years out. We never got around to renovating our circa 1953 cabinets. They're holding up well after several coats of paint. They're magnetic too, which is a plus.

The extra doors

Electric stoves did come with doors and drawers for storing pots and trays beside and below the oven. Gas stoves often had the broiler under a larger oven. An asbestos lined pad was useful if hot pots were to be placed on the flat surface to the right of the burners.


Backsplashes on the countertops.

Dutch Oven

The shiny device in place of the stove's rear left burner is a built-in Dutch oven. It'd be a forerunner of today's electric crock pot; great for slow cooking stews, etc. The pot could be lifted out of the stove for cleaning.

Enameled Steel Cabinets

They look for all the world like St. Charles cabinets, made in St. Charles, Il. They had an identical small pivot hinge at the top and bottom of each door. I worked for them for several years. They were bought up by Viking, the appliance maker, and still made the enameled steel cabinets as late as spring of 2012, but sadly, they've been discontinued. Rust and dents couldn't stop them, but the economy could!

That large shiny

area, on the surface of the range, left rear, was a burner that could be lowered into a pit beneath itself. We had a stove like that when I was a kid, but I never saw Mom or Dad use it. Was it for deep pot stewing, maybe?

I remember reading the owner's manual, and the glorious descriptions of how to use the timer to prepare meals automatically, while you were out shopping, or doing other chores, were funny. The instructions always cautioned not to leave foods that needed refrigeration to prevent spoilage too long in the oven, before the timer activated it.

Stove is a Work of Art

We are looking for an old stove like that for our farm house but unfortunately folks now understand the value of them. I mean, even the light is a piece of art!

The Best Electric Appliances Made

And I also spy a Model 5 Mixmaster with the juicer attachment, hiding in the corner behind the fridge.


I'm going to make a start on identifying the controls above the stove; I expect others who are better informed will correct me. Going left to right on the controls: warming oven, timer clock, broiler, small oven, large oven, and then an electric plug above a light switch for the large oven? Beneath the central controls looks like a slider switch of some sort; what would that have been for?

Or perhaps there's no warming oven or broiler oven and instead the controls go like this: hour timer set, clock, minute timer set, small oven, large oven, electric plug and light. Then the slider could be for an integrated broiler somehow? (I really hope someone will correct me, because I'm awfully curious.)

Ocean rust

When I finally got to visit the house of my Atlantic City great aunt, on S. Troy in Ventnor City, in 2000, I immediately noticed the original enamelled metal cabinetry in her kitchen. I'd never seen a rusty house before. She was only half a block from the boardwalk, and to a prairie-born guy to be so close to the Atlantic Ocean in a house was extraordinary.


Will someone please go over there and lift the handle on the right side of the dishwasher door so it is level with the other handle? Everything else in this kitchen is so symmetrical, it's driving me crazy!

Flameless Cooking

My first thought was, "What a Truly Modern Font."

Washington Post, May 26, 1941.

Do You Want Fast Cooking?

There was a time when Electric Cooking was slow. And, so were automobiles, trains and airplanes. But modern engineering and science has changed all that! Today, Flameless Cooking is as fast as any other method—faster than most! You need only snap a switch and modern Electric Range units instantly provide intense, radiant heat. The more than 20,000 satisfied users of Flameless Cooking in this area would never go back to old-fashioned methods. More and more families swing over to the Flameless Way. Join this Swing — Electric's the Thing!

Potomac Electric Power Company, Matchless Service

Electric Sink

I remember selling those combination Dishwasher Sinks back in the 1950s and 60s. They were also available from Kitchen Aid, Hotpoint, Youngstown and I'm sure there were others. We didn't sell a lot of them but, at the time, if somebody had a 42" sink this made a great replacement because of the dishwasher and in the case of the attached GE magazine ad, a garbage disposal unit as well.

More kitchen thoughts

Sorry Aunt Jess, she had a free standing Roper stove, but it had the double oven with a broiler on one side and warming pan below on the other. As for the dishwasher, her's was a different model, it opened from the front, a deep pull down door, with about a 6 inch inner metal flange to keep the water from spilling out. Few things ever felt as substantial and well fit as that dishwasher door when it was closed. It worked well too! But on New Years eve, every year the lights would go out when she'd run the dishwasher and the coffee maker at the same time. Oh the drama, so close to midnight!

Good stuff!

I like enameled steel

Baroque Background

The baroque decorations lurking in the shadows at the top give one an idea of just how daring this kitchen was. By 1940 Americans had seen a lot of modernity on the movie screen, but their everyday surroundings still had more to do with the top of this picture than the bottom. Come the 50's, all that would change.

Still around in '56

My current house was built in 1956. The man who lived here from 1958 to 2000 redid the kitchen sometime around 1970 (based on the harvest gold American Standard Fiesta sink and matching rotary phone.) He had the forethought (or frugality) to mount the enameled steel cabinets in the garage when he put in the new kitchen cabinets. They are fantastic. Well built and still look basically new. I'm sure I'm not the first to say on Shorpy that they just don't built things the way they used to.

Dated by the linoleum

Apart from that, this kitchen wouldn't look out of place today.

1949 GE Electric Sink

Here is video on youtube of a similar dishwasher in action

And it's all metal!

so no matter which appliance shorts out you are sure to get electrocuted.

Dishwasher question

So Speechless, it looks like this dishwasher loaded from the top, right?
Are those dummy doors in front of it, just to match the other doors?
From the perspective of this picture, it looks like a narrow oven.
And are those drawers in the stove for pots and pans, or another baking place?

Sexy is as sexy does!

Ooh. My grandmother had this kitchen, or something quite similar, installed in her historic house in Plymouth Meeting PA. To me it was utterly wonderful, although quite old bu the time I came on the scene. -- I still long for cabinets that click closed like those did, and her stainless steel sink and countertop was to die for. Like something from Buck Rogers and the 21st century. I especially loved that cool enameled General Electric logo in gold and red under some sort of special Lucite protection on her dishwasher. And those smooth sliding drawers -- I am envious to this day!

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