FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

A New Source for Cookware

Chuck Williams, founder of the retail empire Williams-Sonoma, established his first store in Sonoma, California in 1956.  After two years, he moved his store to San Francisco, where he sold cookware and, later, other housewares and furnishings. Catering to thousands of new food enthusiasts who were inspired by Julia Child, James Beard, and Gourmet magazine, Williams-Sonoma carried the knives, pots, appliances, and gadgets they coveted.

Chuck Williams in his San Francisco store, about 1971

Chuck Williams in his San Francisco store, about 1971

Courtesy of Charles E. (Chuck) Williams

An early Williams-Sonoma mail-order catalog, 1974

An early Williams-Sonoma mail-order catalog, 1974

Gift of Charles E. (Chuck) Williams

Soufflé dish

Porcelain soufflé dishes made by the French companies Pillivuyt and Apilco were among the first items Chuck Williams brought to his Williams-Sonoma customers. The increasing availability of specialized cookware gave home cooks the tools they needed to tackle finicky soufflés and other ambitious dishes. Gift of Julia Child.

View object record

Cooking pot, about 1973

Italian designer Enzo Mari created the "La Mama" line of enameled, cast-iron pots made by the French company Le Creuset. Williams-Sonoma introduced Americans to new forms of durable cookware, including French pots like this, which were perfect for American stews and roasts and for long braises, such as the boeuf bourguignon Julia Child made famous on her first television cooking show. Gift of Julia Child.

View object record
Food processor, about 1973

Food processor, about 1973

American inventor Carl Sontheimer developed the Cuisinart food processor, a modified version of the French Robot Coupe. Julia Child and Chuck Williams acquired early models and never looked back. Williams sold the machine in his stores and used this one at home for many years. Gift of Charles E. (Chuck) Williams.

Pasta machine, Italian, early 1980s

In the 1980s, when the old standby “spaghetti” transformed into “pasta,” machines and highly refined Italian flour for making fresh pasta also came on the market. This Italian pasta machine was purchased by the son of a retired Foreign Service officer as a gift for his mother, to remind her of the family’s time living in Italy. Gift of Betty Jane (BJ) Boudreau.

View object record

Espresso maker, about 1990

America’s longstanding passion for coffee was reawakened in the 1960s by new coffee roasters and retailers. In the 1980s, coffeehouse chains offering bold brews from around the world began dotting urban streetcorners and suburban shopping malls. Recognizing a market for home use, manufacturers offered little espresso machines and  bigger, more expensive models for the high-end market. The blue-lined cups are for serving cappuccino and the white porcelain ones are for espresso. Gift of Rayna Green.

View object record