This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.
The modern kitchen has become the epicenter of a home—the place where families and friends gather to cook, eat, commiserate, and linger. However, this association is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, the typical kitchen was rectangular in shape, filled with furnishings—a sink, a stove, cabinets, and a worktable in the center—and, perhaps most notably, removed from living space. But the introduction of electricity and the widespread adoption of modern plumbing changed the average kitchen to what we know today.
Below, the BTHL chronicles crucial kitchen appliance innovations and additions during the early 1900s that still define the "modern kitchen" of present day.
Illustrated Catalogue and Price List of the Illinois Refrigerator Co., Illinois Refrigerators Co., Morrison, Ill., 1899
Early refrigerators featured a separate metal icebox within their porcelain enamel envelopes. This configuration ensured that water from melted ice did not contaminate the food storage area, and resulted in the appliance’s name: the “dry air” refrigerator.
Nelson Enameled Iron, N.O. Nelson Manufacturing Co., St. Louis, 1906
In the late 19th century, manufacturers gradually shifted from cast iron sinks to porcelain enamel options, which remain popular today. These “modern” sinks featured dual-sided integrated drainage.
Detroit Jewel Gas Appliances, Detroit Stove Works, Detroit, 1907
The Detroit Stove Works line of gas stove cabinet ranges were ornately decorated with curved legs and metal detailing. Specifiers could select models with hoods, broilers, and various burner configurations.
Kalamazoo Kitchen Kabinet, Kalamazoo Stove Co., Kalamazoo, Mich., 1917
The Kalamazoo Stove Co. was a prolific manufacturer and marketer of kitchen stoves, cabinets, and utensils. This catalog features a white-finished cabinet—a major design trend of this era as homeowners grew to prefer “sanitary” white finishes over natural wood finishes.
The Kitchen Plan Book, Hoosier Manufacturing Co., New Castle, Ind., c. 1920
The Hoosier Manufacturing Co. was such a major producer of wooden kitchen cabinets that the brand name became the generic identifier for this piece of furniture. This design competition catalog shows the integration of cabinetry as an crucial part of an interior design scheme.
The Royal Ossco All-Steel Sanitary Kitchen Cabinets, Ohio State Stove & Manufacturing Co., Columbus, Ohio, 1921
In the early 20th century, kitchen appliance manufacturers increasingly marketed product lines as “sanitary” to promote the painted metal finishes that were considered resistant to dirt and germs.
Ideal Built-In Furniture, Wm. Cameron & Co., Waco, Texas, 1927
Wm. Cameron & Co. was an early leader in the production of unified kitchen cabinet designs. Like many catalogs from this era, this publication panders to gender roles typical of the time, claiming its product is “the kind of kitchen that every woman dreams about.”