Kitchen Cabinets a Hundred Years Ago

enambled metal kitchen cabinet
Source: Lippincott’s Home Manuals: Housewifery by Lydia Ray Balderston (1919)

Today built-in kitchen cabinets are the norm. A hundred years ago “modern” kitchen cabinets were moveable.

diagram of kitchen cabinet
Source: Lippincott’s Home Manuals: Housewifery (1919)

Here are some excerpts from the description of kitchen cabinets in a 1919 book:

Kitchen cabinets are combined tables and closets which have been constructed as the outcome of efficiency methods. They represent grouping about the working center the supplies and tools that belong to the work of that center.

Such cabinets may be purchased today in wood or in metal which has an enamel painted or enameled. The wood cabinets were the first on the market, and represent the same points in capacity and convenience that the metal ones do, but the question of cleanliness rather turned the attention to the metal ones. The metal cabinets are more noisy than the wooden ones, but are more likely to be proof against vermin, rats, and mice, and may be easily cleaned by water without becoming water-soaked. Metal cabinets are also nonabsorbent to odors and to any spilled food.

Lippincott’s Home Manuals: Housewifery by Lydia Ray Balderston (1919)

32 thoughts on “Kitchen Cabinets a Hundred Years Ago

  1. I always thought it interesting that in Europe, kitchen cabinetry doesn’t come with the house when it’s sold. There have been times when I might have wished for that– as well as for a “pie safe” or “jelly cupboard.” πŸ™‚

    1. I learned something new. Until I read your comment I hadn’t realized that kitchen cabinetry doesn’t come with the house in Europe.

    1. I know what you mean. Things that seemed old-fashioned (and not very nice) when I was a child, now often seem like wonderful antiques.

  2. Where I grew up those cabinets were referred to as Hoosier cabinets, but I only remember wooden ones. I know they were in the kitchens of older people, but I was a little girl so maybe they were metal and I didn’t realize it.

    1. Like you, I can remember a few people having wooden cabinets when I was a child, but not the metal ones. Maybe the metal ones didn’t last as long.

  3. You know yourself, one day someone will come up with this same idea and act like it’s new and improved – a totally new idea for a “modern” kitchen! Save things long enough and they’ll come back in style.

      1. You and i no sooner talked about this cabinet, when the next day, I watched a HGTV episode of ‘House Hunters’ and in a log cabin house in Colorado – there was the cabinet!!

  4. When I was in grade school, one of my favorite Christmas presents was a metal kitchen cabinet much like this one — except it was child-sized. It was decorated with Pennsylvania Dutch designs, and was outfitted with tiny cake pans, pie and muffin tins, and so on. There was a tiny rolling pin, and every sort of other kitchen gadget. I loved that thing! The cake and pie tins were about 4″ across. When Mom baked pies, I’d roll out my crust on a chair set, and bake my little pie along with her big ones.

    1. And, I’ve been trying to figure out how families a hundred years ago were able to fit all their dishes, pots and pans, cooking supplies, etc. in one (or two) of these cabinets. Back then many cooks made meals 3 times per day, 365 days a year, and the families were often large – yet these cabinets have much less space than my built-in cabinets.

  5. When we lived in an old house in New Jersey when I was younger and we had those cabinets, I could not wait for us to get β€œmodern” cabinets like my friends and now today wish I had those old cabinets. We lived in Germany for a few years too and yes, even back then kitchen cabinets were moveable. They also utilized the lack of space in every inch of the home. I see so much wasted space in my own home – if I had money I would happily make it more European. Thanks for sharing so many wonderful memories. πŸ˜‰

    1. It’s interesting how our perspectives change as we get older. Your comment makes me want to see a European kitchen. I can’t quite picture what kitchen cabinets look like there.

  6. That photo of the cabinets bring back the sound of mom working in the kitchen when I was young, as there were metal cabinets in the old tenant house . Nice memory!😊

    1. I agree- There is so much beautiful vintage furniture out there. I’d occasionally like to buy a piece, but always talk myself out it because of the lack of space.

  7. I really like those old cabinets! Not just for their looks or the fact that they can be moved, but I love the idea of paring down our kitchen “essentials” to what would fit into one of them….

  8. This is so cool because I was just given a genuine Hoosier! It looks beautiful in my house and though the flour sifter and stuff are intact, I’ll probably use it to store dishes and liquor

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