As I write this, Eljer is #25 of 94 listings, alphabetically, in The Retro Renovation® Encyclopedia of Vintage Steel Kitchen Cabinets. Yes, I’m up to 94 listings, but that number is a bit wobbly because a few brands are aluminum, one or two may be redundant based on name questions, and a few are not U.S.-based, which is generally focus of this blog. But there you go, that’s still a lot!
In 1955: Eljer, a division of Murray Corporation of America
This Elger catalog now in my personal collection is, I believe, from 1955. At that time, Eljer was a division of Murray Corporation of America. I also have an advertisement for Murray steel kitchen cabinets in the Encyclopedia. I’ll guess that when Murray acquired Eljer, Murray discontinued their own steel cabinet production and focused on the Eljers. This phenomenon — of one company making steel kitchen cabinets buying another, then discontinuing one brand in favor of the other — is fairly common in the history of steel kitchen cabinets and in postwar (and ever since) products of all sorts. Similarly, as you can see if you go through the Encyclopedia, brands changed names as owners changed. It’s a life-in-the-corporate-food-chain thing.
Based on what little I could find online, Eljer’s own production of steel cabinetry may date back as early as 1938:
- This Eljer ad shows Eljer steel bathroom vanities made as early as 1938. At this time, Eljer was based in Ford City, Pa. By 1955 and the Murray acquisition, it was based in Scranton.
- And this Eljer ad from “ca 1940s” shows a steel kitchen sink base. Were there kitchen wall and base cabinets offered too? I am going to guess from the other photo in the ad… yes.
As my research progresses, I’ll dig even further. I recently bought a subscription to newspapers.com so I could do more extensive research. So far it is proving super helpful (my ultimate goal is to identify conclusively THE FIRST maker of unitized steel kitchen cabinets), although super time consuming, as in, makes your eyes bug out of your head. I likely have not figured out the best keyword and advanced search methods so far…
Another note on corporate Eljer: The company still exists today. It was founded in 1904. In mid-century America and after, I’d definitely that that it was much better known for its plumbing fixtures (those planter-top toilets! and overall groovy 1960s fixtures). Today it still makes plumbing fixtures. It’s owned by American-Standard. More industry consolidation!
Eljer steel cabinets — circa 1955
Like many other makers, the centerpiece to Eljer’s kitchen cabinet line was the sink base. Remember, families could order just this piece and use wood cabinets — or keep their freestanding hoosier-type cabinets — elsewhere in their kitchen. As you can see, Eljer also made sinks (and all kinds of bathroom plumbing fixtures and hardware in my 24-page catalog not shown in this story).
Inspecting these photos of the wall and base cabinets, here are ways to possibly identify your Eljer steel cabinets:
- Look at the inside of the cabinet doors — they are contoured, not flat.
- Drawer fronts appear to be pretty chunky (see photo).
- Text says the shelves are adjustable
- And see the pin latch for the doors:
Of course, if you have label on the sink cabinet, you’re good to go.
Eljer sinks, tub and toilet in six colors — but only white for the cabinets
I see no mention in the 1955 catalog of any colors offered on cabinetry — only white. Bathroom fixtures were offered in white and six other colors, though: Chateau Gray, Pagan Red, Coral Blush, Twilight Blue, Colonial Yellow, and Pastel Green.
Micarta by Westinghouse laminate countertops
Above: Postformed (one piece backsplash+counter+edge) countertops were offered in Micarta’s “Grid” pattern in five colorways and in a butcher block. Micarta was a laminate offered by Westinghouse. Micarta laminates also were available with American-Standard steel kitchens, according to my 1953 catalog for that brand.
So there you have it. Eljer steel kitchen cabinets in 1955.