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Dream Kitchen: 1942

May 1942. "Greenbelt, Maryland, federal housing project. Mrs. Leslie Atkins preparing dinner in her kitchen, one end of which is the dining room. Notice the mangle and washing machine on either side of the stove." Medium format negative by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information. View full size.

May 1942. "Greenbelt, Maryland, federal housing project. Mrs. Leslie Atkins preparing dinner in her kitchen, one end of which is the dining room. Notice the mangle and washing machine on either side of the stove." Medium format negative by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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We always called our mother's machine by its brand name - Ironrite. She, too, could easily do a shirt in swift operation. The kids' job was to do the handkerchiefs, napkins and tablecloths. It hung around the house from the early 50s until we sold the home after their passing. It was still functioning, although a bit worse for wear as to scratches and a bit of rust.

Kids' table

I love the little kids' table with two chairs behind the dining table. It looks freshly painted. In fact, it looks brand-new.

Magnus mangle

Back in 1965, the US Army shipped me (and several hundred other GIs) to Germany on board the USNS General William O. Darby. Four or five of us were assigned to the "night laundry detail" which we thought would be a horrible fate. Not so - our principal task was to assist the merchant mariner who ran the laundry by feeding bedsheets, pillow cases, etc., into mangles about six feet or so wide - not such a bad job, and we got to share the superior crew mess vs. troop mess.

Coffee pot

Why is there another glass pot on top of the glass coffee pot?

[It's a vacuum coffee maker. -tterrace]

Proctor Silex coffeemaker

On the counter behind Mrs. Atkins, you can see near the canister set an all glass P.S. coffeepot, one of which my mom had, that made the very best aromatic coffee ever, but were very fragile. They now sell them on ebay.

Broomstick Skirt, Not Seersucker

Mrs. Atkins owns an iron, because her blouse is neatly ironed. She has dried her skirt in such a way as to make it into a broomstick skirt--a full skirt that is pleated by hand while damp, wrung like a washcloth, and then, while still wrung, coiled back on itself (sometimes around a broomstick) before being left to dry. Broomstick skirts are still popular for their lovely swing--in thin fabrics that hold a crease, such as cotton, silk, and rayon. The pleats are supposed to turn out somewhat irregular but fine, and it's not easy to avoid having some large areas of the skirt turn out with much coarser pleats. Mrs. Atkins has done a good job of keeping them even.

Mangle the Ironer

We had a 1950 Sears Kenmore Ironer. At least, that's what the instruction book, which told how to do a shirt, called it.

Not Seersucker

You can tell by looking at the waistband; seersucker has rows of little tiny puckers, usually but not always on a striped background. You would still be able to see the puckers even if the fabric was pulled tight, as in the waistband.
Looks more like some kind of chintz. Still, ironing it would not be an easy task with all those pleats.

Plumbing situation

Nothing like having a sewage trap directly above your stove!
It's most likely a sink and not the Loo but still... Ick!

Want list:

Just about everything in this pic except the wrinkly skirt. In fact, we'll take the whole house per megmodern's comment pic.


The layout of this kitchen is terrible. Must've been difficult to do the laundry and to prepare and eat meals there.

Today Greenbelt is an interesting place to spend time in. The visitors center is in one these dwellings, many of which are accessed by paths rather than directly by roads. Other planned communities in the DC area are Washington Grove, a former Methodist camp meeting, and the newer Reston and Columbia.

Paper towels

I didn't know paper towels were around in 1942. I'd thought of them as more of a 1950s invention. Shows how much I know.

[Paper towels go back to around the turn of the century. And, here on Shorpy, to 1920. -Dave]


Judging by her skirt, she hasn't figured out the mangler and doesn't own an iron.

[Is that not seersucker? -tterrace]

More on Greenbelt, Maryland

This photo is one of many that are invaluable to us at the Greenbelt Museum. There's so much detail in it, from the canister set to the tablecloth, not to mention the mangle! We have a mangle on display at the historic house we operate, which was one of the original housing units built in Greenbelt in 1937 as part of the Resettlement Administration's experimental green towns program. If you're interested in learning more, come visit our website

Hall pitcher

That's a Hall pitcher sitting on the mangle, a collectible today. My mother had a mangle, and I'm wondering if maybe she didn't call it an ironer too. It was used for sheets, and diapers when my sister was a baby.

Mangle, the Noun

For the young'uns who might not have seen one before, a mangle was an electric ironing machine. My mother always claimed it was called that for what it'd do to your shirts or to an inattentive operator's fingers.

The front and top lifted up and the sides folded down to make a table. Inside was a padded cylinder and a heating shoe. You'd sit in front of the machine and carefully feed damp clothes into the beast. Sheets, pillow cases and towels were a cinch, but only a magician could do a decent job on a dress shirt.

Before this invention, the term "mangle" was applied to those crank wringers on old washing machines, which could also mangle your fingers.

Drinkware from the future

Those beverage glasses with their rounded, tinted bottoms look like something easily found today in many housewares shops/departments.

I never would have imagined that they were available back then.


Even before I read the caption I was excitedly thinking, WOW, an ironer! Our family never called it by the proper name of mangle. My mother got one of these things shortly after her marriage in the late '40s and used it up until the advent of permanent press in the late '60s. I never lost the fascination of watching her sit in the ergonomic chair and feed clothes into the roller. She had use of the thing down to a science and could iron a man's dress shirt just like a laundry. It was really heavy and took up a lot of room and was a pain every time the family moved. This is what it looked like opened up. My grandmother had one of her own. They were still fairly common when I was a kid. The ironer is long gone, but my 89-year-old mother still has the cool little chair.

Prominent plumbing

I'm surprised that a new-build at this time has a toilet flange and bathtub drain trap hanging under the ceiling. That is more like a house built before indoor plumbing and having it added.

[The ceilings are concrete slabs. - Dave]

Oh, that changes everything - no room. Thanks for the clarification Dave.

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