Did you know that the whole concept of the home kitchen didn't really catch on until after 1900? In most homes of the late 1800s, the fireplace (and sometimes the wood-stove) served as the kitchen; however, once stoves became cheaper -- and running water and electricity became available -- people began setting up kitchens as their own room in the house. These photos let us see first hand how kitchens changed over time, as did the people who worked in them!
From watching Downton Abbey, we are no doubt familiar with this scene, which shows a working kitchen in Leicester, England around 1880. In the coming years as stoves became cheaper, the concept of a kitchen would start to spring up in single-family homes.
This early 1890's picture is one of the earliest-known photos inside a kitchen in a single-family home. It shows an early Niagara Stove Company stove set up as part of the wall in the house, with a pipe going directly out to a secondary chimney.
In many homes that were fortunate to have a "cooking stove", the stove itself became the centerpiece of the house, as seen in this 1896 photo of the residence of James Ballantyne of Ottawa. Photo from the BiblioArchives.
We love this photo from around 1900 of a young woman showing off her new stove! As you see in the background, this house also has running water and likely even a hot water heater with the hot water tank!
Home Economics departments began to pop up at colleges around the U.S. in the early 1900s. Here we see a group of students working at a school in Madison, Wisconsin around 1910. Courtesy: UW Digital Collections.
In many small homes in big cities, the kitchen also served as a workshop, especially in tenement housing. This December, 1911 photo shows two women, one hard at work on the cooking and another doing her day job on the sewing machine.
Here we see a group of ladies working as volunteers for the Food Security Administration around 1915.
This posed photo from around 1916 shows how kitchens began to change around this time. On the left we have the traditional stove, and on the right an early version of a gas-powered stove.
Here is a view of a working kitchen inside a Settlement House in Washington, DC in 1912. Everyone played a part here, and you can tell they ran a pretty tight ship by how organized things are in the cabinets to the right!
Many young women and men were forced to learn their way around a kitchen as part of the war efforts during WWI. This photo shows a team of workers for the American Red Cross working in a kitchen that provided meals for refugees.
A woman shows off her New York apartment kitchen in 1914. This one shows a built-in sink. These were almost always a heavy porcelain or steel plus porcelain and became almost impossible to move after they were installed. This is why we have the phrase "Everything but the kitchen sink!"
A man works in the kitchen at St. Luke's in New York around 1915.
Remember Home Economics class? This is an early version of that shown in 1915.
Margaret Warren and Margaret Mason doing some canning at a community conservation kitchen which was set up in September, 1917 in New York City. It was part of a program organized by the NY Food Supply Commission as part of the efforts tied to World War II.
Two women in the mid 1920s show off their modern kitchen as they get to work before a get-together. Notice that the fashion here is changing, as well - twenty years before, the kitchen was a place where the 'work' was done, but here you see that the ladies are wearing their heels and dresses and simply don their aprons while in the kitchen.
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