FOOD: Transforming the American Table

New Materials, New Tools

Using materials developed before and during World War II, manufacturers created new equipment and appliances for postwar cooks. Plastics, nonstick coatings, and freezer-to-oven glass were among the most successful. Tupperware, Teflon, and CorningWare housewares and new electrical gadgets took their place in many kitchens next to old reliable glass jars and cast iron and aluminum skillets.

Ad, 1957

Ad, 1957

Electric companies sponsored a national campaign to promote sales of electrical appliances—and electricity. They encouraged housewives to equate the number of appliances they owned with their level of happiness.

Water Oven

Sous vide is a cooking technique developed in France in the 1960s and used by American chefs since the 1980s. Sealed in plastic, food is cooked slowly in water, which preserves its texture, flavors, and nutrients.

SousVide Supreme, 2009

Gift of Welmoed and Robert Sisson

A suburban Maryland family used this machine, the first countertop model made for home cooks, to prepare a few meals per week.

View object record

From the Lab to the Kitchen

The DuPont Company received a patent for Teflon in 1941, but nonstick pans did not appear in the United States until 1960. The special coating made cooking surfaces easy to clean.

Teflon ad, around 1974

Teflon ad, around 1974

Courtesy of Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Teflon-coated pan, about 1964

Bakeware pioneer Nordic Ware was one of the first companies to apply Teflon to its products, including its signature Bundt cake pan. Gift of Nordic Ware.

View object record

From the Burner to the Freezer

Corning Glass Works formulated a glass ceramic material in the 1950s that withstood extreme temperatures. A single CorningWare dish could be used for cooking, freezing, and serving food.

Advertisement for CorningWare, 1968

Advertisement for CorningWare, 1968

CorningWare casserole dish, 1965

Gift of Anne L. Bernat

Received as a wedding present, this casserole dish is from a set used for forty-five years.

View object record

The Sound of the Shortcut

The automatic electric opener, introduced in 1958, made short work of opening cans.

Can-Opener Cookbook, 1952

Can-Opener Cookbook, 1952

Poppy Cannon promoted the idea that busy housewives could use their can openers to make “unusual dishes” that were quick, tasty, and easy to prepare.

Dazey electric can opener, around 1970

Cooks while the Cook’s Away

The slow-cooking, electric Crock-Pot with a removable insert allowed cooks to start dinner before leaving home for the day and return to a fully cooked meal.

Rival Crock-Pot with cookbook, around 1975
Gift of Robert and Shirley Hunter

Robert and Shirley Hunter of Pennsylvania used this slow-cooker for making stews, sauerkraut with kielbasa, and halushki, a cabbage-and-noodle hot dish.

Handlebars in the Kitchen

The OXO company created Good Grips kitchen tools that could be easily used by everyone, including people with disabilities. Introduced in 1990, they featured contoured rubber handles modeled after the grips on bicycle handlebars.

 

Good Grips tools, around 1995

Gift of Elsa Edwards

These tools were purchased by an avid cook after she started feeling the effects of arthritis.

Multicookers for Multitaskers

In the 2010s, home cooks embraced multicookers that featured programmable microprocessors. Combining the functions of a pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer, and more, multicookers allowed cooks to prepare meals in a hurry.

Instant Pot, 2017

Gift of Melissa Clark

New York Times food writer Melissa Clark used this multicooker to test recipes for her popular book Dinner in an Instant and online videos.

View object record

It Slices! It Dices!

Samuel J. Popeil invented his Veg-O-Matic slicer in 1963. Sold on late-night television by his son, Ron, the device was immortalized by the sales pitch “It slices! It dices!”

Veg-O-Matic with blades, around 1963

Gift of Lisa S. Popeil for the Popeil Family in memory of Samuel J. Popeil

Manually operated, the plastic gadget enabled cooks to push fruits and vegetables through changeable steel-cutting blades.

View object record

Cutting Edge Improvements

By the 1980s, many ambitious home cooks invested in professional kitchen equipment, especially knives. They soon discovered that maintaining a sharp edge was difficult. Engineer Dan Friel designed an electric knife sharpener that many consumers found helpful.

Electric knife sharpener, 1985

Gift of Edgecraft Corporation through Sam Weiner and Daniel D. Friel Jr.

The Chef’s Choice sharpeners featured a magnetic angle guide that helped consumers place the knife correctly to achieve the best edge.

View object record

"It's so good I put my name on it!"

Boxer George Foreman, who reclaimed the world heavyweight title at the age of forty-five, credited his comeback to a healthy lifestyle. His story and charisma helped make the portable, electric grill a runaway success of the 1990s.

George Foreman Cookbook

George Foreman Cookbook

Grill, around 1995

Gift of Debbie Schaefer-Jacobs

The grill’s designer sought out Foreman to pitch the product to health-conscious consumers. Its angled, indented surface drained most of the fat away from the food.

View object record