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Efficiency Kitchen: 1917

Washington, D.C., circa 1917. "Woodward & Lothrop kitchen." The lady might be one Mrs. A. Tackmeyer, "domestic science expert" of the General Chemical Co., makers of Ryzon Baking Powder. Harris & Ewing Collection. View full size.

Washington, D.C., circa 1917. "Woodward & Lothrop kitchen." The lady might be one Mrs. A. Tackmeyer, "domestic science expert" of the General Chemical Co., makers of Ryzon Baking Powder. Harris & Ewing Collection. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Today's menu

"Today's menu will be a pleasing one, interesting to every woman.
Unfortunately, tomorrow's menu will taste like old socks and will bore you to tears."

So efficient, still in use to-day

This basic rule of having an efficient kitchen is still being used today.

This rule is called a triangle rule where the three main appliances (refrigerator, stove, and sink) are laid out. The three corners of the triangle must be determined in order to place appliances in each corner. The straight line of the triangle represent the person going back and forth the line. In this instance, on the left side of the triangle we have the electricifed refrigerator. The center point of the triangle we have the sink. Lastly, we have the stove on the right side of the triangle.


I was lucky enough to have a friend in DC who invited me to a private house near the Capitol that is still (!) fully gas-lit and piped. On the evening we toured it, it was open and all lit up for a house tour for the Victorian Society; although entranced, I spent the evening in fear we'd blow up. Not only were there open gas flames everywhere blowing out of gaslight chandeliers (with no sconces!), but the assorted bric-a-brac (all original to the period, down to the boxes in the kitchen) began to resemble kindling more and more, the longer we stayed. There were gas pipes hanging down in the middle of the kitchen, easily opened, ready to be connected to the various and sundry appliances. The smell of gas was lightly pervasive.

And yet, despite all that, it's lasted all these years with no incidents... (so: who knows about that electrical outlet? It would have made your average housewife be VERY careful when mopping!)

Also a Westinghouse

The fan is a brass bladed Westinghouse. Brass blades and cages were being discontinued because of the war effort (shell casings, etc.).

Hoosier cabinets

The cabinet on the left is of the type popularized by Hoosier Manufacturing and several other companies, most of which were also in Indiana. We have a substantially larger version in our kitchen. Judging from the square ribbed jars on the door, this examples was made by Napanee. Hoosiers appeared about the turn of the century and were popular into the early 1930s, by which point they were being replaced by built-in cabinetry. They were great for this kind of display anyway because they had a whole array of storage helps, though this one doesn't seem to have a place for the huge flour bin/sifter which is one of the most characteristic components. (The round one on the right is for sugar.)

Practical Cooking

The range appears to be a Westinghouse Automatic Electric Range: also seen in previous Shorpy photos here and here.


Spot-on, Dave!

Dave, that "refrigerator" with the compressor mounted on top of it is indeed an electrified icebox. Our upstate New York next-door neighbors continued to use a plain old icebox well into the 1940's, long after all-in-one electrical or gas-operated refrigerators, with all of their working parts integrated under a single metal shell. The one we had in our kitchen was a Crosley "Shelvador" made in Cincinnati, and of course there were the highly popular Frigidaire machines. Crosley was evidently the first manufacturer to install shelving on the inside of the door, hence the brand name.

Not So Fast

Fatty, this kitchen has an early automatic fire sprinkling system installed on the ceiling.

Ol' Rockin' Chair

A rocking chair (or at least a comfy wood chair) was a standard item in many kitchens because there were many tasks that could be performed while sitting down, such as shelling a bushel of peas and stirring the angel cake batter 300 times. And, since this is a commercial display of an "ideal" kitchen, one of the ideals being expressed here is that the cook is a hired servant. This was still a middle class norm in 1917, hence the domestic service uniform worn by Mrs. Tackmeyer. A kitchen with a hired cook should have a comfortable chair, since the cook stays in the kitchen all day, and has nowhere else in the house to go sit down while the roast or cake is in the oven.

More Fatty

Anon. Tippler writes: "Then, the camera cuts to a shot of the whole house burning down, and Fatty looking at it from a distance. Iris out."

Don't forget, Fatty would nonchalantly roll a cigarette one-handed while watching the blaze, and strike a match on a passing train.

Early electrics

That's a lot of electrical appliances! Range, refrigerator, waffle iron, fan, coffeepot -- this kitchen channels the 1950s in watt-hour usage.

The Summoner

I believe the box on the wall above the sink was a call box of sorts. The kind you would find in the kitchens of very fancy apartments on West End Avenue. Pressing a doorbell type button or pulling down on a sash that hung from a wall would sound a buzzer, which would summon the maid or cook to whatever room corresponded to the number shown on the box.


I am almost 70 years old and the Shorpy pictures continue to amaze and interest me. I did not realize that by 1917 they had nearly all-electric kitchens. There is an electric stove, electric coffee maker, some sort of electric appliance on the table (waffle iron?) and possibly a combination gas and electric refrigerator?

My grandmother had a pie making cabinet almost identical to the one on the left of the picture. Hers had a metal flour bin with a glass inset to see the level of the flour. It had the metal slide-out counter top to roll out the pastry.

Dave, keep these pictures coming...they bring back some good memories.

[That's an electric fridge. Basically a standard icebox fitted with a compressor, which is how electrical refrigeration started out. - Dave]

Rock around the clock (or breakfast table)

Just what every cook needs in the kitchen -- a rocking chair, for all that time spent watching for water to boil, or what? Actually, this is a fabulous shot depicting modernity in the WWI era.

Notice the early refrigerator behind her, styled like an ice box, but with the cooling coils on top. And notice the electric plug in the middle of the floor, and think of the exposed knob and tube wiring that surely runs under the floorboards to it.

The telephone (or perhaps intercom) on the far right is a high tech touch for the times -- sort of like having an internet terminal in the kitchen today. You've got a linoleum floor over the wood flooring for sanitary clean ups.

And then you've got her "Amish" outfit. I guess the hat is to keep her hair out of the food, but is the scarf to have something else to drop into it? And what is with all that unused ceiling space? If you replaced the rocker with a step stool you could put cabinets up there and actually use it. It isn't very efficient to waste it. And finally, what is that object on the wall, over the sink and window?

I can ID everything else in this room, including the nice dish towel that fell off the rack and is sitting in the corner.

Efficient...but safe?

An outlet in the middle of a kitchen floor? Yikes!

[This is a display in a department store. Probably not how you'd do it in a real kitchen. - Dave]

Catering for Two

The book on the bookshelf is "Catering For Two: Comfort and Economy for Small Households," first published in 1898 by Alice L. James. The table of contents:

Company Luncheons
Breakfast, Tea, and Luncheon Dishes
Fancy Desserts
Miscellaneous Recipes
Helpful Suggestions

Ryzon Baking Book

"An advertising Cookbook for Ryzon Baking Powder. The book covers 81 pages of recipes that cover breads, cakes, pastries, fillings & icings, puddings, candy, savory dishes and camp cooking; we have never seen a cookbook that covers camp cooking!!"

There is one for sale at Amazon.

Slopping around a wet mop..

Might get very interesting.

I'd hate to see the "Inefficency Kitchen"!

This is a set right out of a Fatty Arbuckle two-reeler.

Here's how it goes: Fatty enters from the left, trips over the electric plug in the middle of the floor (?!), and this somehow sets the whole kitchen on fire. So Fatty calmly goes to the sink and draws a teacup full of water, drinks half of it, and pours the rest on the spreading blaze. When the fire doesn't go out, he looks into the camera, puzzled, and Mrs. Tackmeyer (the name is perfect) whacks him over the head with a rolling pin and shoves him out the door. Then, the camera cuts to a shot of the whole house burning down, and Fatty looking at it from a distance. Iris out.

Okay, I've been watching some Arbuckle and Arbuckle-Keaton films lately, I admit it. They're amazingly funny, 85 years later.

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