There’s a lot of debate about the origin of the word, but when it comes to antiques, a “Hoosier” is widely recognized as one of the most sought-after collectibles. The name came to refer to a free-standing, multi-use kitchen cabinet for the simple reason that the most popular version was produced by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company in New Castle.
Most of the company’s competitors were also based in the Hoosier State—Sellers of Elwood, Boone of Lebanon, and Coppes Nappanee offered comparable products in the first few decades of the twentieth century. The classic Hoosier cabinet stood six feet tall, was made of oak, pine, or later enamel, and featured closeted upper and lower storage spaces, bisected by an often collapsible wooden, zinc or porcelain counter. Many models included a built-in flour sifter, pull-out bins, ant-traps and racks for pots and pans. Other Hoosiers revealed a remarkable array of amenities—from a fold-out ironing board to a desk with pigeonholes and a pencil drawer.
The emergence and popularity of the Hoosier cabinet correspond with changes in society taking place a century ago, especially with regard to the woman’s role and domestic life. In the post-Civil War era, women trying to function in smaller urban quarters without servants turned to a steady stream of technological advances for the home. The compact efficiency of the Hoosier cabinet appealed to the turn-of-the-century homemaker, and the Hoosier Manufacturing Company turned out at least 600 a day.
A study commissioned in 1920 by the U.S. Department of Commerce found that use of such a workstation could save the American housewife over 1500 of the 2000-plus steps she took in her kitchen every day. “After these amazing discoveries,” an ad in the Ladies Home Journal read, “no woman will end another day footsore and weary. None will endure the distressing fatigue of kitchen work any longer.”
By the 1930’s, kitchen design was evolving into an even more streamlined, sanitary ideal, and modular built-in kitchen cabinets came to replace Hoosiers. Since the 1970’s, however, there has been a growing demand for the antique cupboards and their original accessories, and a brisk business in contemporary reproductions and replacement fixtures.
This Moment of Indiana History is a production of the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations in association with the Indiana Historical Society. More information is available on-line at “moment of Indiana history-dot-org.”
Writer: Yael Ksander
Sources for this program include:
De Witt, Katherine. “The Humble Hoosier.” The Washington Post (April 24, 2003): p. H01(http://antiques.ozarkmerchants.com/keepitcountryantiques/washingtonpost_article.html)
Hopper, Lynn. “Hoosier Cabinet info elusive.” The Indianapolis Star (May 13, 2006): (http://www.abebooks.com/docs/CompanyInformation/PressRoom/IndianapolisStar-gotobuy-13May06.pdf#search=%22Hoosier%20Cabinets%22)