Many housewives take for granted the conveniences that are in modern kitchens. It is easy to feel superior when thinking about the olden days .
History shows that in the past it took a lot of work and a lot of time when to put out a meal. But if a modern day housewife was transported back in time to a first century kitchen she might be surprised to see some of the wonders that kitchen contained.
The early Roman kitchens had bronze and copper frying pans, colanders, egg poachers, scissors, funnels, and kettles. These are all standard items in kitchens today. Kitchens have changed but surprisingly kitchenware has changed little.
It was the birth of the industrial revolution that brought the need for machines to provide work. This revolution shook society apart and reassembled without maids gave inventors the ideas for ingenious gadgets, like the dishwasher, the blender, Tupperware, S.O.S. pads, friction matches and the paper bag.
Prehistoric man (or woman) prepared food over an open fire with little tools. It was not until around 7000 B.C. that earthenware help modernize cooking. With this invention any size or shape of bowl, pot, or pan, could be made and colors could be added. The Greek and the Roman eras brought gold plates, silver cups and glass bottles for the wealthy. The poor relied on hollowed rams’ horn for cups and hardwood jugs.
It was not until the late 1700’s that meat was cooked in the oven. Until that time the turnspit was the chief cooking appliance. Many homes still incorporate the turnspit in cooking in the form of the electrically operated rotary spit, which is also popular in many outdoor barbecues.
The brown paper bag which is still used to this day got its start in 1883. Charles Stilwell is the inventor of the brown paper grocery bag. Bags existed before Charles invention but they were pasted together by hand and had V- shaped bottoms which prevented them from free standing. Charles invented a machine that produces these bags and the fact that they stood on their own endeared them to grocery stores. The boom of the supermarket in the early 1930s caused an increase in the need for the brown bag.
Electricity and the Early Kitchens
Gadgets for the kitchen started with the early years of electric power. Actually the word “gadget” was not part of the language until 1886. Many gadgets that are part of every kitchen today had early starts. The blender goes back to 1922. The band leader Fred Waring financed the development and marketing of the first Waring Blendor. He insisted it be spelled with an o to distinguish it from others. The inventor of the blender (which originally was known as a “vibrator”) was Stephen J. Poplawski. While the Waring blender was pitched to bartenders the Poplawski blender was sold to soda fountains. It was not until the late 1950’s that buttons were added and the average housewife was enticed to purchase the blender.
Aluminum Foil, a staple in most households, came to the attention of the American housewife in 1947. It started off as an important protection from moisture for cigarettes and candy. Non-toxic, paper-thin, and resistant to moisture, the product conducted heat rapidly, and kept foods odor proof. Today the foil has an almost unimaginable number of uses.
Peter Druand and the First Can Opener
It surprises many people that the can and the can opener were not invented at the same time. Actually a half century elapsed before the opener was around for the can. The can was invented in 1810 by a British merchant named Peter Druand. It was invented to provide rations for servicemen. British soldiers used knives, bayonets and sometimes rifle fire to get into the cans. It was 1858 that the first patented can opener was invention. It was the brain child of Ezra J. Warner of Connecticut. The first can opener looked nothing like the later ones in modern kitchens. The 1858 opener was part bayonet, part sickle, and would clumsily wind its way around the periphery. Because so many of the early households had their own ways of opening cans Warner’s invention did not sell well. The opener that is recognizable today was the invention of William Lyman who obtained a patent in 1870.
The pop-up toaster had it beginnings in a plant in Stillwater, Minnesota in 1919. Charles Strite received financial backing from friends to produce one hundred hand assembled toasters. Up until this time most households used the oven or the fireplace to toast their bread. Strites’ machines were sent to restaurants who loved the pop-up principle. The toaster for homes arrived later on 1919. It had a timing adjustment for the desired degree of darkness. It wasn’t long until most homes had an automatic toaster.
There are many other gadgets that make the kitchen pleasant and take some of the misery out of cooking. With the overloaded schedules of many families today the kitchen is often the least used room in the home. It is interesting to look around and realize that many of the items people take for granted were blessings and/or life savers to the homemakers who came before.
- Gregory, James. The Patent Book: An Illustrated Guide and History for Inventors. A&W Publishers. New York. 1979
- Rybczynski, Witold. Home: A Short History of an Idea. Viking. New York. 1986