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Hoosier Cabinets “freed the housewife”

June 11, 2009

 By Molly Armstrong Head, producer and development director of Hoosier History Live!

Hoosier Cabinet

An example of a Hoosier Cabinet. Photo courtest of Wikipedia.

I never knew people could get in such a tizzy about Hoosier Cabinets. After I heard Nancy Hiller, author of The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History (IU Press) and a Bloomington cabinetmaker, talk about the social history of the Hoosier Cabinet with Nelson Price on Hoosier History Live! radio show this week, I called my friend Glynis, who has a “Sellers” in her 1920s era kitchen. Her kitchen is so crammed with stuff that you can hardly realize that there is a valuable antique in there. Glynis had listened to the show sticking her radio out the back window; she lives in the country about 50 miles from WICR’s radio tower. (Modern humans can hear the show online anywhere it airs, but Glynis is no-tech.)

As I learned on the show, these marvelous inventions were marketed in the early part of the 20th century as “a boon to women.” And they sold like hot cakes. They had spice racks, storage bins, a built-in flour sifter, a pull-out counter. And you could sit down in front of them to do your work. They centralized the food storage and preparation area, saving many steps.

More than two million Hoosier cabinets had been sold by 1920, meaning that they could be found in one in ten American homes. One old ad exclaimed, “Lincoln had freed the slaves, and now the Hoosier has freed the housewife from unnecessary drudgery!” 

Now, I reflect that, for the last fifteen years or so, designer kitchens, food prep, gardening, kitchen gadgets, and haute cuisine seem to be absolutely the yuppie, upscale thing. 

Although the Hoosier kitchen sure has changed, I think our society will always believe that having all the right stuff in your kitchen tells people that you have “arrived.” (Where, exactly, I’m not quite sure.)  

Next week (June 13), join Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. on WICR FM (88.7) to hear 90-year-old P.E. MacAllister reflect on civic history.

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2 comments

  1. While touring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthhome a few weeks ago, I saw one of these in their kitchen! Very cool.


  2. Wow, another great post. Thank you fot he quality info, i have become a big fan of you blog…keep it up



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