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All the Conveniences: 1940

September 4, 1940. Middlesex County, New Jersey. "New Brunswick Housing Authority. Reed Court, Apartment J, kitchen." 5x7 inch acetate negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.

September 4, 1940. Middlesex County, New Jersey. "New Brunswick Housing Authority. Reed Court, Apartment J, kitchen." 5x7 inch acetate negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.


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1940s Modern

I was born in 1966 and this kitchen was still familiar to me from my visits to homes out in the country, when I was growing up.

That little hinged door

If we are looking at the same thing, Tamara, I'm guessing fuse box.

And in -this- kitchen, it contains all new fuses. No pennies.

Amped up

"What is the little hinged door on the corner cabinet/wall on the left? The one that looks like a knob or key is sticking out?"

Fusebox, I'd bet.

The little hinged door

I would guess that's an inspection or cleaning hatch in a chimney. Chimney either coming from the gas stove, the apartment(s) in the floors below or from a central heating unit in the basement. I'm looking at one of those every time I visit my parents.

Where do all the exhaust gases go anyway? The radiator might vent beyond the wall it is mounted on. The water heater as well?

New Construction you say

Why is there a roof leak above the water heater?

[Or did the leak come from below, not above? - Dave]

Hinged door

My New Years Eve guess is going to be ... fusebox. Happy New Year to everyone viewing Shorpy. It has been a rare day I miss clicking in, a routine for at least a dozen or more years now.

Coin Operated Gas Meter

I kept looking at the meter and wondering if it was coin operated. Almost wrote in to ask what people think. Only experience with them is watching one of those early 30s, probably pre-Code movies on TCM with down on their luck types scrounging coin for the meter in the apartment.


Somebody sure must be mighty proud of that kitchen, inadequate as it might look to modern eyes. It is one of the most spotless ones I've ever seen! I don't see when the picture is embiggened even a little buildup of crud along the baseboard behind the pipes to the gas meter. Everything is neatly in its place, lots of color has been added in runners and the trim along the bottom of the cabinets, the curtains look freshly hung, and there's even a little doily or the like on top of that meter to try to make it pretty, or less ugly at least. First time though that I have ever seen a gas meter right inside a house like that, and never thought I would.

[It's clean because it's new construction. - Dave]

This is lovely

So cool to see the real thing (rather than the fake vintage. I agree!)

What is the little hinged door on the corner cabinet/wall on the left? The one that looks like a knob or key is sticking out?


The fabric trim underneath the counters cabinets is a nice touch. I doubt my wife would allow it in our kitchen, however.

All the conveniences?

I think not. Where is the Swing-A-Way can opener??

Natural Gas Cooling

Up until the late 1960s our house in Boston had a natural gas refrigerator in the kitchen. When it quit we got an electric unit and the unused gas line was put to use for my mother's first gas clothes dryer. The dryer was in the kitchen next to the fridge. The washing machine was around the corner in the pantry where it had been forever. I have an alert on one of the real estate web sites to let me know if the old house comes up for sale. We moved from it 46 years ago, I'd like to see what it's like inside now. The house was purchased by my parents in 1960 for $10k, sold in 1974 for $18k and then sold again in the early 2000s for $495k.


The matching breadbox seems to open on the top. Ours (one year later) was front-opening, which seems more convenient, especially under a cabinet overhang.

What were the alternatives?

Not knowing them, I hesitate to second guess the placement of the water heater and gas meter. But the usable space in that kitchen was marginal even before they were shoehorned in.

Put a Nickel in the Meter Dear, Baby Needs a Bath

This kitchen was truly a convenience and testimony to gas companies generating revenue that was being lost to electricity. Having the gas meter located in the living area saved one from having to run to the basement and put a coin in as you would a payphone.

In addition the refrigerator looks to be an Electrolux/Servel gas unit, leaving only the kitchen light being dependent on electricity.

[The fridge is a Kelvinator. A serval is a cat. - Dave]

Thank you Dave. Spelling error on the Servel AKA "The silent killer" due to the possibility of carbon monoxide when not properly maintained.

[Servel ironically a portmanteau of "serving electricity." - Dave]

Frankfurt kitchen, New Deal variety

And yes, the homemakers appreciated it very much. The first time somebody actually gave thought of reducing the domestic workload.

It may have ultimately led to gadgeteerism. But then, who cares? One can always choose not to buy a gadget. But one cannot choose to have a sink, running hot and cold water, a fridge, an electric or gas powered range or stove, an ergonomic kitchen, etc. if those are either nonexistent or prohibitively expensive.

I know people who still have that kind of water boilers, wood fired, in their bathrooms. They have the firewood anyways, so why change?

Ceiling damage

I wonder if it is a water leak or if the water heater somehow steamed up that part of the ceiling?

Water heated as needed

Growing up in New Jersey, we had a water heater similar to that even in the 1960s. The smaller chamber on the left had a gas burner and copper coil to heat the water for the tank. All manually operated. Turn on the gas, light the burner with a match, and wait. As the water was heated, it rose in the coil to the top of the tank. The tank itself wasn't insulated, so you just felt the upper end until there was enough hot water to take a bath, do the dishes, wash clothes, etc. Not very convenient by modern standards.

Tested and proved technology

About thirty feet from where I sit right now, there is an identical "pancake" gas regulator hooked up to our gas main inlet. Looks like something that hasn't been improved on much in the last eight decades.

Glad we didn't install ours coming right out of the kitchen floor, though!

The Reality vs. Today's Fantasy

People wanting a "vintage kitchen" should look at photos like this instead of the pages of the glossy magazines - this is more like what kitchens were like back in the day. No acres of matching cabinets, no marble countertops, no beautiful antique-style tile backsplashes, and certainly no stainless appliances.

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