Photos of Old Kitchens from 1860 to 1970

By | March 19, 2017

The notion of a 'kitchen' as we know it today came about due to a book by the Beecher sisters, Catherine and her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe. In 1869, the two sisters published a revised version of The American Woman's Home.

Among its many ideas was an initial layout for a kitchen as well as a set of sketches as to how various goods and ingredients could be efficiently stored. Catharine Beecher's design for the kitchen was a revolutionary concept at the time, but didn't take hold for many years to come, however!

The Stove as the Center of Everything

These photos show how the cast iron stove, with cast iron kettles, pans, etc. on the side, became the center of what would eventually become known as the kitchen.

1896. Residence of James Ballantyne, Main Street in Ottawa. Here the sitting area has already been separated and some primitive storage of ingredients and kitchen tools already has their own space.

1890. Niagara Stove Co Stove set up in the kitchen. This photo marks the first time we see a stove set against a wall with the pipe going up along it. From a dual cooking / heating source, the stove morphed to something reserved only for cooking.

1910. This photo shows the inner workings of a stove, which evolved quite a bit around this time.

The Kitchen Becomes a 'Thing'

As more homes installed stoves and had access to running water and electricity, people began spending more time in the kitchen, so a place for the growing bounty of utensils, ingredients, and kitchen wares was needed.

1900. This photo shows the lady of the house enjoying her new stove.

1900. An early cabinet that was built to keep the kitchen stuff organized; the surface can be used to mix, cut, and prepare the food.

1900.Another version of an early cabinet with a larger space for actually spending time in the kitchen. The room even has a rocking chair. And so the 'kitchen' started becoming its own room and new houses all had one built.

Bring on the Efficiency: Introducing the Hoosier Cabinet

In 1899, the Hoosier Cabinet Company came up with the idea of putting all cooking essentials in to one standalone cabinet that could be placed next to a stove and sink.

An early ad for the Hoosier Cabinet advertises how the cabinet saves miles of steps that were formerly between the barn, pantry, shed, and well.

Though there are few remaining cabinets from those early days of the Hoosier Cabinet Company, these photos below give you a sense of what some of the early models looked like.

The Hoosier cabinets evolved quickly over the years. In this ad, the cabinets are seen with pre-installed containers and recipes in the doors!

Moving Toward Integrated Efficiency

Before the Hoosiers reached mass adoption, several companies came together to promote an idea of an integrated, efficient kitchen. The next two photos below from the 1906 edition of Craftsman Magazine show a view of a model kitchen.

1906. Here's one side of a model kitchen where the large sink and preparation area is set up with some basic storage above it. During this time, the sink was typically a large porcelain monster. This is why we have the phrase "Everything but the Kitchen Sink!" because it was such a heavy monstrosity.

1906.Shown here are the cooking area and pot / pan storage. This picture gives you a great sense of why the Hoosier cabinet was adopted so well - it was a total eyesore to have all those pots and pans hanging from ceilings and shelves!

Cabinets! Give me ALL of the Cabinets!

From 1900-1920, many families were staying in smaller homes, and this meant that things like the Hoosier became more important, because they simply didn't have space for all of those wall hangings.

1914.Margaret Ober, a singer with the The Metropolitan Opera, showing off a rib roast she's made in her kitchen. Look at all the cabinets!

1911. This illustration shows what a modern kitchen looked like in rare upper-class homes. While the entire room now has a nice flow to it, each of the areas - sink, stove, cabinets, etc. - are all still standalone. The cabinets became display cases just as much as storage!

1915. Cooking was starting to become a family affair.

Moving Toward "Built In" vs. Standalone

As the kitchen became more important, home builders began considering how these standalone items can be included in the home build itself.

1917, A display for a modern Efficiency Kitchen. Here we see how the shelving, cabinetry, and lighting for a kitchen started to move toward becoming part of the space vs. an element inside it.

1920s photo of a model Koehler kitchen. The big progress that was made with building-in the key elements, saving space and making the kitchen more flexible, which meant that the concept of a 'kitchen table' was now possible!

A 1920s kitchen showing the inclusion of built-in cabinetry. Notice a smaller sink that was part of the build, and a stove that was now a simple turn away. And check out the linoleum, too!

The 1920s and 1930s: The Kitchen Comes to Life

Everyone had a kitchen by this era, and so to did most households migrate to eating many meals at a small kitchen table (vs. a larger dining room).

1925. What the typical kitchen in a middle class or upper-middle class home looked like. Take note that 1) There's now a radiator to make the preparation more comfortable, 2) The kitchen table has now it's own prime spot, but no longer out of place, and 3) There are lovely curtains that add to the softness of the room.

An aspirational view of a 1930s kitchen. Notice how the flooring starts to become more fun, the cabinets have some color, and there are plants in the windows. This is also the first time we begin to see colorful pots, pans, and storage bins.

Getting Efficient During the War

As more and more homes moved to gas in the late 1930s, stoves became smaller and more efficient.

Lena Horne shows off her new gas stove in 1940. This revolutionized efficiency in the kitchen as it freed up tons of space for other things and also cut down on mess.

1941. The need for efficiency housing during war-time created super-simple kitchens. The stove is now a built-in element as is the dishwasher.

1945. The War Efforts took many women out of the home for the first time as they assumed every job imaginable to fill in for soldiers. Th women then applied much of the efficiency they saw at their jobs back in their homes. This created more and more functionality in the kitchens and enabled multiple people to work at once.

1946, Photo of the home kitchen of Sam Lontine, miner. Puritan Camp, Erie, Colorado. At the same time, kitchens became where most families would eat.

The 1950s: Bring on the Color!

The Baby Boom brought on a whole new world of families and prosperity. As the culture evolved to more rock n roll and expression, the kitchens get more 'fun'.

Modern magazines began to promote more colorfully-trimmed kitchens after the war. Many homes even featured built-in hutches like this one that resembled the local diner.

Another kitchen from 1955. This shows a liberal use of yellow that would become a staple of many kitchens through the 1960s.

The 60s and 70s: Designer Kitchens and Scaled-Down Efficiency

The unique architecture of the 1960s influenced kitchens in two ways: 1) the higher-end, designer ones began to look more space-age where one could barely tell that it was a kitchen at all and 2) Home builders looking to appeal to the middle class began developing smaller, less white-washed kitchens that felt more 'homey'.

Early 1960s kitchen. Has a more modern, streamlined look where everything is built in. You'd barely even notice the stove if walking by!

Doris Day in her Malibu Kitchen in 1966. This design would eventually become a mainstay in homes across America as the kitchen became smaller and felt more like a comfortable 'command center' than its own room.

1970s. What used to be known as the 'kitchen' really ceased to be so as the family's dining table typically moved to be the centerpiece of the room.