Did Belknap Hardware manufacture its own lines of steel kitchen cabinets — or did they wholesale those made by other manufacturers? I fear that this question will be difficult to answer definitively, but I will educated guess: These cabinets were made by another manufacture, but possibly only for Belknap. I bought these pages of Belknap metal kitchen cabinets, identified by the seller as from a 1961 catalog from 1961, for my Encyclopedia of Steel Kitchen cabinets . The pages indicate different designs were launched over the years, with Birmingham, Alabama, the manufacturing location.
Steel kitchen cabinets with porcelained metal counter tops:
A few things help to distinguish the steel kitchen cabinets that were sold by Belknap:
- They came with porcelained counter tops. Even in 1961, yikes. This was not a common feature on steel kitchen cabinets by then, I think. Most manufacturers were marketing modern laminate counter tops.
- Styles include full overlay and inset doors and drawers, and there are a variety of handles shown.. This indicates either different manufacturers, or one manufacturer who added new designs over time. Based on the single manufacturing location noted, I’ll guess one manufacturer produced all these cabinets.
- I don’t think that I’ve identified any other steel kitchen cabinets made in Birmingham, Alabama.
- This Wikipedia article says that by 1968, Belknap had not been doing their own manufacturing for a long while…
- Oh, and now I found this reference from 1955.
Based on this information I will guess: Belknap bought these cabinets from another manufacturer, possibly producing just for Belknap, and likely had been doing so for some time — decades maybe even, considering Belnap’s importance as a retailer. The definitive way to answer the question: Find a source for every year of Belknap catalogs and check the years to find the “new” introductions…. Hmmm. Where would I find such a resource? In the Louisville public library system? Or perhaps the University of Louisville library? Hard to say — because these catalogs were often considered “ephemera” and not saved.
Belnap Hardware and Manufacturing: A massive one-stop shopping middleman supplying small and mid-sized stores all over America — and a major force in the history of American domestic material culture
The wiki says that Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing, based in Louisville, Kentucky, was one of the largest distributors in the U.S. in the 20th Century. Indeed — their catalogs were massive. It sounds like they carried just about everything and anything you needed for your house.
Best I can triangulate Belnap’s business model: Fundamentally: Belnap was a one-stop shopping middleman for general stores, hardware stores, etc. The company had its corporate epicenter in Louisville. That’s where all the executives, buyers, and fulfillment operations were. They also had a large sales force based all over the country. These sales people would call on retailers of all stripes. The sales people would lug their catalogs with them. The catalogs showed all the products that Belknap distributed. The retailer would place the order with the Belknap salesman for all kinds of products. The salesman would send the order to Belnap in Louisville, and staff would then take things from there.
In some cases, Belknap manufactured products in their catalog. But based on the number of SKUs, I’m guessing that mostly Belnap was a middleman, placing the retailers’ final order direct with independent manufacturers.
The company had a long history. It launched in 1840 and continued until 1986. Belknap Hardware sure sounds like it was a big deal — a very important part of America’s domestic material culture in the mid-2oth Century!
- Here’s a pretty amazing resource — 1,528 images — mostly of employee newsletters, beginning in 1962 — from Belknap from Wiley Brewer on Flickr.
- And, here are images just of/from some of the vintage Belnap Hardware distributor catalogs, also from Brewer’s collection. Golly, I’d like to weigh some of those catalogs — what a workout the sales people must have gotten, lugging these from customer to customer daily.