In the early days of steel kitchen cabinets — the 1930s — the cabinets had a “deco” or “streamline” look… they were always white… and there were only a few brands that we know of so far — including Whitehead Among the very early brands were Whitehead/Monel, Servel, Elgin, and Dieterich. It’s not easy to find examples of these old originals any more, so it’s very exciting to discover and be able to archive this vintage Whitehead catalog from 1937… so that we can ogle late 1930s kitchen design ideas… so that we can identify these rare birds when spotted in the wild… and to add as another wonderful piece of archeology to our short history (3,000+ words, gulp) of vintage steel kitchen cabinets.
Whitehead steel cabinets were made by Whitehead Metal Products Co. of New York, Inc. The company lists there address as 304 Hudson Street, New York, N.Y. Yes, steel kitchen cabinets made right on the island of Manhattan — imagine that. Looking at this story, Pam said that she *thinks* we may have seen a set once a few years ago — for sale in New York City. But doggonit, no photo can be found. 52PnB, you remember it???
In this catalog, Whitehead puts an emphasis on smart design. Very interestingly, the company even calculates how much space is needed for any one type of cabinetry based on how many bedrooms are in the house. And, there was lots of focus on efficiently organizing all the work elements in the kitchen. With this in mind, Whitehead created a whole line of specialty cabinets and inserts — all with organized and useful components (shown left to right above):
- Bulk storage bins
- Step shelf
- Bread bin
- Soap powder rack
- Lid rack
- Refuse container
- Cutlery tray
- Slicing board
- Tray racks
- Planning desk
Some of the other and more interesting specialty cabinets include the vegetable storage cabinet, soiled linen cabinet (laundry basket for the kitchen), towel drier cabinet and plate warmer cabinet (shown above).
- Anti-friction drawer slides
- Fully insulated door and drawer fronts
- Recessed toe space (to minimize uncomfortable bending)
- Concealed hinges
- Bullet catches
- Rubber bumbers
- Welded door and drawer corners
- All frame corners welded
- Monel hardware
The counter tops are made of Monel. And, the touts the benefits of having an integral sink, counter top and back splash, which will not collect grease or allow water to penetrate the drainboard. So, this is how far back — at the least — that we can see examples of stainless steel(like) counter tops. See our helpful story — 5 ways to do stainless steel sinks and counter tops.
Another exciting component of a Whitehead steel kitchen was the availability of the integrated dishwasher. We need to do research to identify when the first built-in dishwashers were installed in American homes.
Of course, an important fact to consider — especially when a dishwasher is involved — is where the hot water will come from. In this case, Westinghouse has a solution — the automatic electric water heater — that fits seamlessly into a kitchen cabinet, even providing extra counter space above the unit. The catalog advertises this unit as rust proof — and mentions that you will never again have to worry about contaminated hot water from a rusty tank.
In 1937, this kitchen surely must have been very high end — well out of the reach of most Americans. But surely, designs like this set the stage for the big boom in steel kitchens after World War II. Very cool.
Thanks to archive.org and the MBJ Collection for making this vintage catalog available.
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