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The Peelers: 1912

The Peelers: 1912

Circa 1912. "Neighborhood House kitchen." Our third look at this Washington, D.C., settlement house. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Pressed metal

Embossed metal ceilings were all the rage back at the turn of the LAST century. they were reasonably easy to put up. They came in 1 by 2 foot sections and nailed directly to the lath-work that was attached to the joists. At 10 to 15 cents a square foot, the cost was reasonable too. Today Embossed ceilings are making a come back. The big difference is that they now cost anywhere from $15 to $25 a square foot.

My first apartment had an embossed metal ceiling, and if you turned the valve on the fittings in the hallway, gas still came out of them. This was in 1972!

Other details

Now that we've got THAT settled, there are a number of other neat details here. First and foremost, it always makes me a little nuts to see the great old American tradition of pealing off the most nutritious part of the potato and tossing it out. I mean I LOVE smashed potatoes, but the skins are really where it's at, nutritionally.

Next, hmmm, I see we're working by gaslight. And I dig the looped towel on the door, designed to allow folks to share the filth. And does the dish in the cupboard say "Pure Ice Cream"? And how about the tin of Old Dutch Cleanser on the back shelf?

Finally, the more of these pics I see, the more I realize that our female ancestors spent a HECK of a lot of time sifting flour!

Kids now

How many kids in this day and age would stand with Mom in the kitchen and help her peel potatoes? There may be a few, but I just don't think it's expected like it once was of children. Back then every member of the household pitched in--in fact, the reason to have children was to have extra help around the house and farm.

That said, I agree with the others that a paring knife (and a lesson on how to cut it not in her hands, but on a cutting board) is imperitive. I get nervous watching her-- years notwithstanding.

Old Scrubber

That is part of a pot scrubber. There should be a metal handle attached.

Pot scrubber

The thing on the wall is a chain-mail type scrubber for cleaning stuck food from pots and pans. Nowadays there is the scrubber that looks like a long string of stainless steel turned on a lathe and bunched in a ball.

Kitchen Helpers

It's a pot scrubber.

Pot chain

The piece of chain mail hanging on the wall is called a pot cleaner, pot chain, or wire ring dish cloth. They sold for 5-7 cents in 1900 and were used to scrape the crud out of the bottom of cast iron pots, pans, and skillets.

It's a vivid symbol of how far kitchen work has come in 100 years.

Nameless thing

That is a pot scrubber made of interlocking rings like chain mail. Kind of like the stainless steel scrung pads that look like a bunch of lathe chips that are used now.

Paring knives needed

I shudder to think of giving a carving knife to a child to peel potatoes. I wonder if she made it out of childhood with a fingers intact?

The Trivet

My wife identified it immediately as a trivet. Having it handy by the stove makes sense.

Kitchen cleanup

I believe that is a chain-mail pot scrubber. My sister collects kitchen items and has something that looks very much like this. It was made of heavy wire links and was a precursor to Brillo pads. You just soak the dirty pan or skillet in soapy water and swish this around in the pan to dislodge any cooked on particles.

Oven Mitt?

Seems to be a collection of interlocking rings. Maybe something you put under a pan to isolate it from the stove top for simmering? Or a scrubber, or fireproof grabber for the stovepipe damper??

Thing hanging on the wall.

To the best of my knowledge this was a pot scrubber.


I'm pretty sure it's a pot scrubber- forerunner of brillo pads.


That is a little goody that is made of metal rings. It was used to clean cast iron pans before SOS came into the picture.

That thing

Hmmm...maybe some sort of potholder, for handling hot dishes?

Had oven mitts been invented yet?


Somebody give the girl in the back left a paring knife.

Nameless Thing's Name

It's a pot scrubber! They were metal chain links used when washing dishes to scrub pots and pans.

Re: Name that nameless thing

That's obviously a chainmail pot holder/dream catcher.

Before we had green nylon scrubbers

This was a kind of pot scrubber for cleaning off cast iron pots and pans. Most I've seen had a more rigid handle, which would be helpful for cleaning off that fried-on crust.


Or a string of dried cherries.

The Nameless Thing

Looks a lot like what my grandmother used for scrubbing cast iron. Old school, you couldn't use soap to clean the pan because it would take off the 'seasoning', rendering it liable to rust (and no longer non-stick). But if you had crusty stuff you needed something to scrub it with, hence the chainmail-like scrubber. Modern dish soaps are not as harsh as the old time ones, and so it's less harmful to the seasoning of the pan to occasionally give it a scrub with some dish soap.

Pot scrubber

I think it's a pot scrubber, like this.

Here's another one.

Pot Scrubber

That ringed device in question is listed on page 1178 of the 1908 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. It is called a steel ring pot scrubber. A Google search of "metal pot scrubber" brings up pictures and E-bay listings.

Hanging on the wall

That is an old fashioned pot scrubber - long before Chore Boy scrubbers were invented.


This possibly could be a wooden ball trivet. I remember my mother had one similar to this.

Name for the nameless thing

It is a chain-link pot scrubber.

Hot pot?

Perhaps it's a hasty trivet or a hot pot holder. Like a medieval oven mitt.


I'll bet it's a trivet that has some broken links. It is next to the stove.

Been there

I've been in that room so often it isn't funny--not that exact room, but rooms with the same molding, bad plaster and flue. Even the cabinets are familiar. Some colleges only remodel every hundred years or so.

Be careful, you could lose a finger!

Look at the size of that knife that girl is using! Yikes!

Name that nameless thing

Anyone know what this is? Hanging on wall to right of gas lamp.

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