Hoosier Cabinets: Saving time and space in American kitchens in the first half of the 20th century

XPress “Like”
to follow us on Facebook
Milica Sterjova
Featured image

Before the appearance of the modern kitchens with built-in counters and cabinets, the freestanding Hoosier cabinet was an important piece of kitchen furniture. The average American kitchen was very small, so there was a need for a piece of furniture that would save space. The predecessor of the Hoosier kitchen cabinet was the “baker’s cabinet,” a piece of kitchen furniture popular in the 1800s. The Hoosier cabinet came as an adaptation of the baker’s cabinet, giving it a new form with more storage space.

There are several stories about the cabinet’s origin. Some sources claim that the first one was made at the end of the 19th century in Elwood, Indiana by a company called Sellers, while others name the Hoosier Manufacturing Company as the producers of the first Hoosier cabinet. Since the early 20th century, numerous companies that manufactured this type of cabinet appeared in the United States, most of them located in Indiana. About 40 companies were producing Hoosier-style cabinets in the United States.

There is also a debate about the origin of the cabinet’s name. Some argue that the cabinet was named after the Hoosier Company and others say that it came from the nickname of the state Indiana where most of the cabinets were made. The name Hoosier refers to the type of cabinet, regardless of the company or the area of production.

The largest manufacturer was Hoosier Manufacturing Company, originally from Albany, Indiana and later moved to Newcastle. At the peak of their production, the company was manufacturing about 700 cabinets daily. Other more famous manufacturers included McDougall, Boone, Wasmuth-Endicott, and Napanee.

A Hoosier cabinet. Author: Dhscommtech. CC BY-SA 3.0

The cabinet concentrated the kitchen tools, utensils, and food ingredients into one place, allowing people to keep a clean and organized kitchen. It was initially made of oak but due to the later scarcity of the material, eventually, all kinds of wood were used. Manufacturers often had to use different types of wood in the creation of the cabinets. This why Hoosier cabinets tended to be painted, to hide the difference in color. According to HoosierCabinet.com, the original cabinets came with sets of glassware. These included coffee and tea containers, salt boxes, and up to eight spice containers. Some of the manufacturers included cookie jars. The glassware was made in several different styles and by different companies.

An advert in 1916 Country Gentleman. Author: Don O’Brien. CC BY 2.0

The workstation was designed to save time and reduce walking distance around the kitchen. Aside from cooking the food, it was possible to prepare an entire meal working on the Hoosier cabinet, making it much more than a simple storage furniture. The cabinet included meat grinders or flour sifters and some of them even had foldable ironing boards.

A cabinet in 1927 Country Gentleman Magazine. Author:
Don O’Brien. CC BY 2.0

The Hoosier cabinet had a broad base usually mounted on four casters, with several drawers and a sliding shelf that could be pulled out in order to provide more working space. Pots and pans were usually kept in the lower part. The upper section of the cabinet was narrower and shallower and was where dishes and supplies were kept.

A Hoosier cabinet made of oak, ca. 1918. Author:
Theresa Thompson. CC BY 2.0

The worktop was made from wood, zinc, or porcelain which was the most common among the materials. On the inside of the cabinet doors, there were usually door charts which differed from one manufacturer to another. These had cooking tips, advice on how to remove stains, food timer cards, and more.

A collector’s Hoosier Cabinet filled with glassware made by Sneath Glass Company.

Before the start of WWII, the production of Hoosier cabinets was drastically reduced mostly because new, modern kitchen cabinets began to appear. The Sellers Company continued making Hoosier cabinets even after they had fallen out of popularity. Their later models were designed in the Art Deco style, popular at the time.

A child-size Hoosier cabinet in the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Author: Michelle Pemberton. CC BY-SA 3.0

Hoosier cabinets remain popular among collectors of antique furniture and are often used as additional cabinets in modern kitchens. An original piece could cost up to several thousands of dollars depending on the manufacturer, date of production, and the condition of the cabinet.