Kitchens: Where all the action is!

Vol. XX No. 1 - SPRING 2009

By: Kathy Gemperle, curator

The early kitchens in Edgewater were often the domain of hired staff, sometimes live in staff. For the more modest homeowner, the kitchen was a hub of activity and a family gathering place. It was here that a great deal of the household work was done. This included preparing and cooking food, making coffee, cleaning up after the meals and sometimes even washing and ironing clothes. Many of these activities are still done in the kitchen today.

When the earliest settlers came to the Andersonville area the homes were small cottages with 5-7 rooms. Some parts of the community has electricity and some did not. Water was supplied to each household so most had indoor plumbing by the 1890s. Nearby were many truck farms with vegetables that were sold at the South Water Market and we suppose in some local stores. Transportation was primarily by foot for grocery shopping. There were telephones as early as 1900 and some people had a pay phones in their kitchens. Milk was delivered along with various other dairy products. Groceries stocked staples and sold in bulk at first but gradually changed with times and offered goods in packages. These groceries were usually the size of a single or double storefront but also offered delivery via a delivery bicycle or a horse drawn wagon.

Work in the kitchen changed gradually with each new labor saving invention. A whole industry grew up to create kitchen utensils that would solve various work requirements.

Take, for instance, the eggbeater. At first a slotted wooden spoon would do the trick. Then there was the wire egg whisk. Both of these tools required quite a bit of elbow grease to get the eggs to a frothy substance. Enter the mechanical eggbeater. Each new version claimed to add something different to the process in order to get the patent. These designs developed from the 1900s to the 1950s. With better tooling, ball bearings were added to the tool and rotation became really smooth. But the real solution came with the electric appliance called the Mixmaster, which came out in the 1920s. It did not make the small hand mixer obsolete, but it greatly added to the amount of mixing that could be done.

Consider also the toaster. A number of things were involved in the invention of the pop-up toaster. Initially, a small wire apparatus was used on the stove to toast the bread. This required manually turning the toast. Next, a four sided metal apparatus could be used on a stove. In 1905, the metal alloy that would heat up to toast the bread was developed, which led the way for a more automatic toaster. This was followed by a series of inventions to solve the problem of toasting both sides of the toast. Then, in 1919, Charles Strite created a design that allowed for the heated wires to turn off and a spring mechanism that would allow the toast to pop up. What a great invention!

Many more inventors worked to improve other kitchen work related activities.

Have you ever wondered about the clothes iron? Until 1882, clothes were pressed with an iron that was heated up on the stove. Henry W. Weeley received a patent for an electric iron that year. At the time, only a few hundred homes had electric power. Usually the power was on only at night. But a man named Earl Richardson from Ontario California made a survey in his town and learned that most women would appreciate power all day on Tuesdays, when they liked to iron after washing on Mondays. He negotiated this with the local power company and was then able to sell more irons.

The first steam iron was developed in 1926, but it didn’t catch on until the 1940s with the development of synthetic fabrics. As you look through this section of the exhibit, think about how the invention actually changed the work required or did it merely present another way to do it?

The exhibit includes a number of unusual items and inventions that were notable in the drive to create an efficient modern kitchen. Stop by the museum and marvel at the variety of attempts to make jar opening easier. Also see what must be the smallest portable washing machine from our area. There is lots of information in the exhibit. Most of it was developed from the book “Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things.” Thanks to Lori Lynch, Leroy Blommaert, Marilyn Engstrom, and the museum collections for the materials in the exhibit.