How the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet saved miles of steps (2024)

Dawn Mitchell|IndyStar

This is a fifthin a series of stories as we take "Retro on the Road." We'll profile unique, quirky and historic places around Indiana and the people who know the stories behind them.

NAPPANEE, IND — These days there seems to be a museum for just about everything, so a museum dedicated to kitchen cabinets shouldn’t surprise you.

Smack in the middle of Amish country is Coppes Commons, the former factory for Coppes Brothers and Zook in Nappanee, manufacturers of the Coppes Napanee Hoosier Cabinets. That’s not a typo — there was a time when federal law prohibited corporations from incorporating a city into their name, so Coppes dropped a “p” to get Napanee.

The building houses a variety of specialty shops and an event venue. But the second floor, which houses the Hoosier Cabinet Museum, is part showroom, part museum with a variety of Coppes products that were made on site as well as numerous Hoosier cabinets by other manufacturers.

The kitchen workhorse

You could call the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet the Instant Pot of its day. Everyone wanted one and it promised to save time, work and “do away with all kitchen drudgery.”

These all-in-one freestanding kitchen cabinets were a housewife’s dream and a status symbol of domesticity.

Medora: How a southern Indiana town is turning old bricks into a tourist destination
Old Hickory: Indiana-made furniture still provides rustic comfort

Primarily made of oak, the cabinet featured drawers for utensils, shelves, spice rack, pie safe, cookbook stand, breadboard and pullout porcelain worktop to provide more workspace. The greatest feature was the flour bin and sifter. In some models, the bin could be lowered for easy filling. Cabinets were equipped with specially fitted glass coffee and tea jars by Sneath Glass Co.of Hartford City.

Another feature of the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinetwere the measurement conversion cards on the inside of the doors. These also included sample menus, cooking times and household hints.

When planning homes today, the kitchen is often the room where the most time, money and effort is spent in the design. In the late 1800s, however, the kitchen was an afterthought and had little to no cabinet or storage space andsparse counter space and was ill-equipped for meal preparation. Cooks had standalone baker’s cabinets which provided storage and some workspace, so the Hoosier cabinet was a major upgrade that promised convenience, storage and organization in one neat package.

Bill Warner, the historian at the Hoosier Cabinet Museum, cites several factors in the Hoosier cabinet phenomenon.

"The American familywas gaining affluence. The family could afford to purchase more things for the home. Advertisem*nts were reaching more homes, radio, in print, and signs in store windows. Advertising created a want in the homemaker," Warner notes. "Hoosier style cabinets were everywhere, there was competition between companies."

The Hoosier standard

Purists insist that a Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet is the gold standard. The Hoosier Manufacturing Co. began in Albany,Ind., in 1898, then moved to nearby New Castle after a fire destroyed the factory in 1900.

Hoosier was one of the earliest and largest manufacturers of the cabinets, churning out 700 units per day and by 1920, the company had sold nearly2 million cabinets. Hoosier Manufacturing Co. was said to be the first in the nation to offer a time-payment plan with its Hoosier Club membership. With a $1 membership, a cabinet was delivered to your door with a weekly dues payment of $1 (and if you kept up with your payments, the cabinet was yoursin less than a year).

By 1921, one in 10 U.S. homes had a Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet. In 1910, a cabinet couldcost from $29 to $49 — or about $700to $1,200 in dollars today.A restored Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet can fetch nearly $3,000 now.

The term “Hoosier cabinet” became generic for the kitchen essential. The popularity of the Hoosier led to all cabinets of this style being referred to as “Hoosier,” but Indiana companies manufacturing the cabinets were duly named.

Brands made by other Indiana companies, such as Ariel, Sellers, Boone and McDougall,can rightfully be called a Hoosier cabinet.

"We (Coppes Commons) have collected names of 50 different companies that advertised or produced cabinets that can be called Hoosier," Warner said.

A Hoosier cabinet to the cook was like a tool chest to a mechanic. It was the kitchen workhorse with everything within arms reachand saving the cook miles of steps each year.

Retailers who sold the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet took a few liberties with the truth, “It will save your energy and beauty, and keep you feeling young and strong,” claimed an advertisem*nt for Feeney Furniture & Stove Co. in Indianapolis.

By the late 1920s, homebuilders saw the importance of upgrading kitchens with more modern conveniences and built-in cabinetry and the Hoosier cabinets fell out of favor. But Hoosier cabinets were the basis for how kitchens are designed — all the necessary doors and drawers within steps of major appliances to save the cook steps. Every piece of cabinetry had a purpose.

Hoosier Manufacturing Co. struggled until 1941 when it was purchased by a Cincinnati group that used the factory for war contracts to make wooden cabinets and lockers for the government.

Rose Island: How this 'ghost' amusem*nt park found a new life in Charlestown

Coppes saw the writing on the wall and evolved into contemporary kitchen designs. Coppes Napanee now is the oldest continuously-operating cabinet maker in the United States, but on a much smaller scale than during its heyday.

Hoosier cabinets have been much-sought-after pieces of furniture for decades, but as the farmhouse style makes a major comeback, Hoosier-style cabinets are even more in demand. But be careful when looking for a Hoosier-style cabinet. Each should have a brass identifier plate to show itsauthenticity.

Follow IndyStar photo coordinator and RetroIndy writer Dawn Mitchell on Twitter:@dawn_mitchell61.

Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

About Me

I'm an enthusiast with a deep knowledge of historical artifacts and cultural significance. I have a particular expertise in the history of kitchen cabinets, especially the iconic Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet. My understanding extends to the significance of these cabinets in American homes, their features, and the impact they had on domestic life in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet

The Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet was a revolutionary piece of furniture in its time, serving as an all-in-one freestanding kitchen cabinet that promised to save time, work, and "do away with all kitchen drudgery." Made primarily of oak, these cabinets featured drawers for utensils, shelves, a spice rack, a pie safe, a cookbook stand, a breadboard, and a pullout porcelain worktop to provide more workspace. One of the most notable features was the flour bin and sifter, which could be lowered for easy filling in some models. Additionally, the cabinets were equipped with specially fitted glass coffee and tea jars by Sneath Glass Co. of Hartford City.

The Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet was a major upgrade for kitchens in the late 1800s, offering convenience, storage, and organization in one neat package. It was a significant improvement over the standalone baker's cabinets that provided limited storage and workspace. The cabinets also featured measurement conversion cards on the inside of the doors, along with sample menus, cooking times, and household hints.

Historical Significance

The popularity of the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet can be attributed to several factors. During the late 1800s, the American family was gaining affluence, which allowed them to purchase more items for their homes. Advertisem*nts played a crucial role in creating a desire for these cabinets among homemakers, with radio, print, and store window signs reaching more homes. The cabinets became a symbol of domesticity and were widely sought after, with competition between companies leading to widespread availability of Hoosier-style cabinets.

By 1921, one in 10 U.S. homes had a Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet, and the term "Hoosier cabinet" became synonymous with this style of kitchen essential. The cabinets were so popular that they influenced the design of modern kitchens, with all necessary doors and drawers within steps of major appliances to save the cook steps. Despite falling out of favor in the late 1920s, Hoosier cabinets laid the foundation for how kitchens are designed today, with every piece of cabinetry serving a specific purpose.

Legacy and Collectibility

Today, Hoosier cabinets are highly sought-after pieces of furniture, especially with the resurgence of farmhouse style. Restored Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets can fetch nearly $3,000, and their authenticity is verified through a brass identifier plate. The legacy of these cabinets lives on, and they continue to be in demand as prized pieces of furniture .

In summary, the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet was a revolutionary piece of furniture that transformed American kitchens in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Its impact on domestic life, its features, and its historical significance make it a fascinating subject for enthusiasts and collectors alike.

How the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet saved miles of steps (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Carmelo Roob

Last Updated:

Views: 5766

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (45 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Carmelo Roob

Birthday: 1995-01-09

Address: Apt. 915 481 Sipes Cliff, New Gonzalobury, CO 80176

Phone: +6773780339780

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Gaming, Jogging, Rugby, Video gaming, Handball, Ice skating, Web surfing

Introduction: My name is Carmelo Roob, I am a modern, handsome, delightful, comfortable, attractive, vast, good person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.