Hoosier cabinets, once the staple of the 1920s American kitchen are amazing pieces of architecture. They came in many shapes, sizes and colors but they all had one thing in common, they were incredibly efficient pieces of furniture.
The name Hoosier came from the Hoosier Manufacturing Company based in Indiana, which is the Hoosier state. Why Indiana is called that is another story which maybe someone from Indiana can enlighten me about; but for our purposes, we are talking about the name that became synonymous with an all-purpose cabinet that had everything the “modern” housewife of the post-civil war household would need at her fingertips. As houses became smaller and servants became more scarce, the housewife of the early 1900’s needed storage. During that time in our history, built-in cabinets were not plentiful. Many preserved items were kept in cellars or pantries which necessitated walking all over the place to get the job of cooking done. That is when the Hoosier cabinet began its climb in popularity.
According to Indiana Public Media, the Hoosier cabinet was generally 6 feet tall, made of wood, usually oak or pine, until the enameled version came out and had a range of gadgets that proved useful. Based on a baker’s bench, there were upper and lower storage areas that held a multitude of kitchen items all at your fingertips. There was usually a flour bin, a place for pots and pans, pull out bins for various spices and more. There was usually a counter-top that bisected the top and bottom storage areas which would extend your counter space. Some of these counters were fixed but some were able to be pulled out or pushed in when you were done.
I have always wanted one of these amazing pieces of American history. I haven’t managed to find the one I want just yet but I will. They come in so many shapes, sizes and materials that it is hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I want. I am partial to the red and white ones, though. Look at how streamlined these pieces were. Take a look at this old advertisement –
That cabinet has space for pots and pans, flour, a spice rack, dishes and a ton more. That is why they became so popular. But as people began to “modernize” during the thirties and forties, these cabinets began to fall out of favor. People were able to buy canned and prepared foods. They didn’t can as much as they used to. It wasn’t necessary for a woman to be in the kitchen all day baking bread so the need for this piece of efficiency began to wane.
As women began to move into the work force, the Hoosier cabinet became a relic of a past era. But you can’t deny the beauty of the concept itself. Although I can understand not wanting the flour and sugar exposed to bugs and whatnot, as not all of these canisters were airtight; having always lived where counter space was at a premium, I would love one of these in my kitchen. There were lots of items that were made for these cabinets, too which are highly sought after. There were jars and bins, canister sets and much more. You could make your Hoosier cabinet look very put together. Look here for a bunch of different items that you could outfit your Hoosier cabinet with.
As noted in this shout out to the Washington Post, as the Depression got into full swing, the production of these great workstations fell off and the materials that they were made from were needed for the war effort. By the 1950s some were made but lacked the innovations that made the Hoosier what it was.
Even so, there are a number of these old pieces still out there and some are in great shape. They are not cheap but are well worth the price if you find one in good condition and have the space. Hoosier cabinets are one of those marvels of architecture. Most have good bones, and are genuinely worth their weight in gold just being what they are. As we move into smaller and smaller places, and there are just not enough cabinets, we end up running all around the kitchen looking for this pan and that spice. At least I do. I would love to have it all right there where I can find it.