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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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A Place for Everything: 1939

A Place for Everything: 1939

February 1939. Hidalgo County, Texas. "Kitchen of Farm Security Administration tenant purchase client." View full size. Medium format nitrate negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration.

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Farm Kitchen

Our house (on a farm) didn't have electricity until 1956. All of the light fixtures were like this except two 'fancy' ones. Before that, it was kerosene lanterns. We did have a battery-powered radio - with a windmill that charged the batteries! A simple life, but a good one.


Those appliances would have to be hand-operated or just for show -- I don't see any electrical outlets to plug them into.

[The practice in such cases back then was to tap into the ceiling fixture with a screw-in adapter. - Dave]

I know it's hideous...

...but I *LOVE* it. I would buy candy-apple red appliances for the counters and wear a red apron when I worked in here (which, to be honest, would be pretty rare, since I seem to live off of salad and canned soup and squares of dark chocolate).

Sagging Ceiling

I don't think the ceiling is sagging. I think what we're seeing is pincushion distortion, which can happen with wide-angle lenses. This type of distortion makes lines near the edge of a photo curve toward the corners.

[If it were lens distortion, the top edge of the upper cabinet doors would be curved too, paralleling the ceiling. But it's not. - Dave]

One light bulb

My WW2 buddy lived through this. He says the electric companies did not want to wire farm homes because they thought there would be just one light bulb in each. When the farmers started using electricity to pump water and other activities the electric company was pleasantly surprised.

I love this kitchen

I want this kitchen and I live in a brand new house with loads and loads of cupboard space and all mod cons.

You know the surfaces could be bright red or blue or green. It might not be the black and white it appears. Just love those hinges too!

The Bulb thing

it would seem that back then having a room like lit up brighter than daylight would be quite the novelty, therefore what seems overbright and stark do be, begging for a shade of some kind, could well seem exciting and ultramodern for those accustomed to dim candles and lamps, as most of the poor folks were undoubtedly.

Then again, the photographer may well have placed a 75W bulb in the socket, replacing the 25W bulb, to punch up the values in the photograph....

[The bulb is off. The light reflected in the window is for the camera. - Dave]

Kitchen Cabinets

I would love to have that kitchen (minus the naked bulb)! -Sandy, MI

What, No Granite?

Note the sagging ceiling, and is it cold water only? One faucet!

Kitchen Design

That was considered very modern at the time - not ugly.

In the Kitchen

The black on white is a bit jarring, but creates an interesting pattern at the same time. In person, viewing at a normal eye-level and under normal lighting conditions, it might not be so unsettling. As you pointed out, the focus is on function, not form. What always gets me about kitchens from this era is the the naked light bulb hanging above the sink.

Seeing as this is from an FSA tenant's home, and considering the time period, I bet she was very proud to have such a nice place. It is actually quite posh compared to what a lot of people were living in then.

I Know It's A Window

Remove that hanging light bulb, paint the cabinet hardware faux stainless steel, install a high arched faucet in the sink, tune the flat panel TV to the Food Channel and you have a Tribeca or SoHo loft kitchen. The space would be worth a fortune.


The light bulb hanging down from the ceiling is the real topper.


The window in the middle is just the right aspect ratio to look like a television.

Honestly, I like the look with those hinges and handles.


I kinda like it, in that retro way. I looked in my kitchen just now and don't have even a third of the storage she does! I'm jealous.

Kitchen of ...

The Caligari family, evidently.

Food Factory

What an awful example of utilitarian industrial design. Couldn't they at least have painted those handles and hinges white?

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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