Hoosier Cabinets: The Swiss Army Knife of American Cabinetry
By Mary Giorgio
Today coveted antique store or flea market finds, Hoosier Cabinets were once a kitchen staple in American households. Pre-dating modern homes with built-in kitchen cabinetry, Hoosier Cabinets fulfilled a need for storage and workspace. Many of these early cabinets were designed by the Indiana company, the Hoosier Manufacturing Company, from which the term “Hoosier Cabinet” originated.
The first Hoosier Cabinets appeared on the market around 1898. They were designed as a convenience for American households, promising to save women valuable meal prep time. Families could store tools, supplies, and ingredients at arm’s reach while using the cabinet’s generous counter space to prepare meals.
Freestanding kitchen cabinets began as utilitarian units but soon evolved to include many helpful novelties. There was a place to store flour, sugar, spices, and tools. They were cupboards for appliances. Some units had a meat grinder attachment or cookbook stand. Spice organizers and flour sifters became especially popular. Special glassware was even made to custom fit in the units.
The Hoosier Manufacturing Company quickly rose to fame as sales of their cabinet units took off. The company was one of the earliest manufacturers of Hoosier Cabinets and quickly became the largest manufacturer of the product. It began operations in Albany, Indiana, in 1898, but later relocated to New Castle. Their great success was likely due to an emphasis on marketing. Ads for their cabinet appeared in popular national magazines like TheLadies Home Journal and TheSaturday Evening Post.
In 1910, the cost of a Hoosier Cabinet ranged from $29 to $49 ($700 to $1,200 today). By 1920, the company had sold 2 million cabinets. During their peak years in the 1920s, they produced 700 cabinets each day. The company even offered a payment plan to help family support their product. For one dollar, a family could take possession of a Hoosier cabinet and keep it as long as they pay a monthly installment of one dollar.
While the Hoosier Manufacturing Company was the largest manufacturer of Hoosier Cabinets in the United States, many smaller Indiana companies successfully produced versions of the cabinet. The second largest-manufacturer was G. I. Sellers Company, which was founded in 1888 in Kokomo, Indiana. The company later relocated to Elwood. By 1922, G. I. Sellers produced 75,000 to 85,000 Hoosier Cabinets per year. Other manufacturers included Boone Kitchen Cabinets based in Lebanon and Coppes Brothers & Zook in Nappanee.
By the late 1920s, new homes began to feature built-in kitchen cabinets. The demand for Hoosier Cabinets declined. By 1935, most Americans consider them to be old-fashioned. The Hoosier Manufacturing Company was sold in 1942 and subsequently liquidated. G. I. Sellers closed in 1950. Other companies, like Coppes Brothers & Zook, embraced the cabinet evolution and transitioned their sales to built-in units. Coppes Brothers & Zook continues its business today.
Today, Hoosier Cabinets are valuable antiques. Restored cabinets can fetch far more than they were originally worth. Some companies even specialize in modern reproductions of the iconic units. For anyone interested in learning more about the cabinetry, the Hoosier Cabinet Museum in Nappanee, Indiana, houses a wide array of historic styles and designs.