Friday, June 6, 2014

The Hoosier Cabinet


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
On a recent visit to an antique store I noticed a large piece of furniture marked “Hoosier Cabinet.” I’d seen these cabinets and heard the term “Hoosier Cabinet” before, but for some reason this particular piece sparked my curiosity. For the first time, I wondered about how this unique cabinet got it’s name. Was this turn-of-the-last-century kitchen furniture simply prevalent in the Ohio Valley, or, like me, was the Hoosier Cabinet actually born in Indiana? I did some research and learned that indeed, the Hoosier Cabinet originated in my home state of Indiana.

 

Hoosier Manufacturing Co., Greencastle, Indiana
Appearing on the scene in 1903, these innovative and labor-saving cabinets were an adaption of the 1800s “baker’s cabinet.” First manufactured by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company of Greencastle, Indiana, the Hoosier Cabinet became an instant hit with homemakers of the early 1900s and soon other Indiana furniture manufacturers began producing their own version of the popular cabinet. Some other manufacturers included Sellers, McDougall, Napanee, Kitchen Maid, Wilson and Boone, but despite the maker, the cabinets all soon became known simply as “Hoosiers.”

 

The Hoosier Cabinet conveniently brought together all the items and work surface needed for food preparation. The upper cupboards held dishes and supplies while the lower part held pots and pans. The middle section featured an alcove equipped with handy flour and sugar bins. The tilt-out flour bin with a 50 lb. capacity even included a sifter. There were drawers for cutlery and towels and a metal-lined drawer especially designed for freshly baked bread and cake. A prominent feature of the cabinet was the work surface. Originally made of wood, it eventually evolved into a choice of aluminum or “porceliron,” (porcelain-enameled steel). Some cabinets included built-in spice jars and salt boxes as well as coffee and tea canisters. Nearly any labor-saving device that could be imagined was fit into different versions of the cabinet. This circa 1907 advertisement by the Boone Company boasts that 369 women designed their kitchen work station.

 
 
 
 
 
Below are several varieties of Hoosier Cabinets.
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Aside from the practicality of their design, these cabinets were simply gorgeous furniture pieces. Manufactured between 1900 and 1940, there were many variations of the Hoosier Cabinet. The earliest versions were made of sturdy oak, but later manufacturers began to use lesser grades of wood and painted the cabinets to match popular kitchen color schemes of the era.
 



When I’m punching a cook time into my computerized microwave oven or flat top electric range, I often wonder what my grandmother would think of these modern laborsaving appliances. But looking at these pictures, I find myself envious of my grandmother! Modern kitchen designers could learn something from these work stations of the early 20th Century. I can imagine today’s versions including computerized timers, temperature controls for the work surface, and humidity controls for the flour, sugar, and salt bins.









































Sadly, the Great Depression and World War II pretty much did in the Hoosier Cabinet. During the Depression, sales slowed to a trickle then, with the outbreak of the war, the materials used in making the cabinets became scarce. By the end of the war built-in kitchen cabinets came into vogue, replacing the freestanding models. But during their heyday—between 1903 and 1940—it is estimated that nearly four million Hoosier Cabinets were produced, most in Indiana. The Hoosier Manufacturing Company was one of the first companies to offer an installment plan as a sales option. For a dollar down and a dollar a week, one could own a Hoosier Cabinet. A 1917 ad for a Hoosier Manufacturing Co. cabinet put the price between $14.25 and $53.00, depending on the model. Today an antique Hoosier Cabinet can go for an average of $850.00 to $1,000. depending on the condition. Now that’s what I call appreciation!

 

I don’t remember much about my grandmother’s Hoosier Cabinet except that it was green and had a flour bin with a built-in sifter and a porcelain work top. But learning how Hoosier Cabinets have gained in value over the past eighty years makes me wish my family had held onto grandma’s.

 

Do you have a Hoosier Cabinet in your family or the memory of one? I’d like to hear your Hoosier Cabinet story.



 
 

Ramona K. Cecil is a poet and award-winning author of historical fiction for the Christian market. A proud Hoosier, she often sets her stories in her home state of Indiana.











Check out her latest releases at www.ramonakcecil.com


 
 
 

5 comments:

  1. A friend of mine has a hoosier cabinet and I'm so envious. She inherited it from her grandmother. I'm all for labor-saving devices but most sure do lack in the design department. I think our ancestors would look at the stainless boxes that pass as refrigerators and shake their heads. Thank you for an interesting post.

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  2. Hi, Margaret! I agree about how our ancestors would view our modern kitchen appliances. Your friend is sooo lucky to still have her grandmother's hoosier cabinet. Wish I still had mine. :(

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  3. Hello Ramona. I really enjoyed this and the pictures. I really don't remember what the cabinets looked like but do remember when mother and grandmother had pull down bins for flour and sugar. Also they had cubbords or that's what we called them. I think some call them pie ? Can't remember. :) And, yes I do wonder what my grandmother would think. some had microwaves before my mother passed away. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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  4. I really like the newspaper ad, MAKING KITCHEN WORK A PLEASURE! probably to one who loves cooking and baking! These cabinets are definitely beautiful, but I don't have any stories about them. I definitely enjoyed the pictures and article you wrote. Did not know these mostly came from Indiana. Who knew? sharon, wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  5. Ramona, great article! I wonder too about how our foremothers would react to today's "luxuries." Your article came up as I was searching for the Greencastle Cabinet Company, which existed from 1905-1917. I found out that my great uncles worked there, and I can't seem to find much info about it. Anyway, the postcard you show is the New Castle Cabinet Company, not Greencastle.

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