These two charming cabinets were sold at one of our fall Beehive sales. Called “Hoosier Cabinets” or just “Hoosiers”, they’re true antiques, dating from the late 19th – early 20th century. At that time, most American kitchens did not have built-in cabinets, making the Hoosier the kitchen equivalent of the free-standing wardrobes used to hang clothes in the average American bedroom, which did not come with built-in closets (the era of built-in storage in every room did not commence until the late 1920s – early 30s.)
The Hoosier is a tall, compact, all-in-one workstation built to store ingredients and equipment within a fairly small footprint, while also providing handy work surfaces on which to mix batters, chop vegetables, or knead bread. When comparing Hoosiers to other antique display/storage cabinets you’ll first notice the handy, easy-to-clean tin countertop, marking it as a practical as well as beautiful piece of furniture. Most Hoosiers also had an additional tin-covered pull-out work surface to really make use of the space.
Other fine features include ‘ant-proof’ casters for easy moving, tin gravity-fed hopper bins with built-in sifters for sugar and flour, and railed shelves inside the lower and upper swing-out doors for custom-made glass salt and spice canisters or plates, depending on the depth. Lower drawers held utensils, while the shallower upper half of the cabinet held bowls and pans. Some Hoosiers even came with drop-down ironing boards!
One of the most cleverly designed features are the doors located directly behind the tin counter work surface on some of the better models. The slatted wood tambours roll back into the inside edge of the cabinet as they are opened, leaving your busy, crowded work surface undisturbed.
Like Kleenex, Dumpster or Xeroxing, Hoosier was a branded manufacturer’s name for a product that became so successful the company’s name was adopted by consumers as the vernacular word for that product. The Hoosier Manufacturing Company of New Castle, Indiana, was one of the earliest and largest makers of these cabinets; by 1920, they had sold two million!
By the 1930s, around 10% of American homes had a Hoosier brand kitchen cabinet, with competing companies (also based in Indiana) providing even more. But at the height of their success these companies were on the brink of failure – new homes were starting to be made with built-in cabinets and countertops. Many of the manufacturers pivoted into providing pre-made cabinets for built-in installation, but many went out of business in the 1940s and 50s. The Hoosier Manufacturing Company went under in 1942.
However, the name Hoosier lives on as the official nickname for residents of Indiana, AKA ‘the Hoosier State’ and as the name of Indiana University’s sports teams.
While there’s debate as to where the term came from, one thing is sure – the furniture company named itself after the State rather than the other way around; the term first appeared in print in 1833 in the poem “The Hoosier’s Nest” by John Finley. One origin myth: Louisville contractor Sam Hoosier only hired workers from Indiana rather than Kentucky to build the Louisville and Portland Canal and they became known as “Hoosier’s men”. OR, some claim it was African American Methodist preacher Harry Hosier, called “the greatest orator in America”. OR, it was census workers calling out “Who’s here?” Whatever the origin, QBO can fix you up with a fine Hoosier for your kitchen.