Curator's Corner Blog

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The cutest little kitchen you’ll ever see

When you’re little, it seems like you can’t grow up fast enough. All you want is to be able to walk by yourself to the ice cream store, drive the car, push the lawnmower. You just want to do what mom and dad are doing.

While researching the toaster post, we came across some absolutely darling toys from the 1940s that put at least one grown-up thing — cooking — in the hands of little ones. These tiny toys are sized for tiny hands. Too big for the doll house, they were clearly designed for children to make pretend cakes, pour pretend lemonade, mash pretend potatoes and saute pretend omelets.

These tiny kitchen items are in the collection of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.

Surveying these kitchen tools gives us a good sense of what the late 1930s / early 1940s kitchen looked like. There would have been a standing mixer, a pop-up toaster, and a hand-held egg beater. Mom might have done the ironing in the kitchen, too. (We’ve noticed fold-down ironing boards in the kitchens of older Missoula homes.) Perhaps in the fridge you had a glass dispenser that contained punch, lemonade or iced tea for those hot afternoons in July and August.

Collection of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. 1997.0003.085

This lil’ mixer, one of our favorite items in the group, ran on battery power. An old Everready is still in the compartment. Collection of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.

Baking is a great entryway for children into cooking (kids love sweets!). Kid-sized cookie cutters shaped like a gingerbread man and a chicken attest to the fact that 1940s kids would have been making cut-out sugar cookies, too.

Many of these toys seem to be more than just play things — they are smaller, working versions of the real thing. A child could stand on a stool next to his or her parent and help beat eggs, turn silver-dollar pancakes, and mash potatoes, with tools that fit in a child’s hand.

The toys were donated by three sisters who grew up in our region, and the dings and scratches on each miniature appliance or utensil reflects how much they were clearly loved.

Did you ever “play kitchen” when you were growing up? What were your favorite toys?

The Modern Miracle of the Electric Toaster

Downton Abbey fans might remember a humorous moment early in this season, when Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper, brings home an electric toaster. She plugs the contraption into a socket in her room and proceeds to happily burn her first piece of bread in the pursuit of toast.

Mrs. Hughes Toaster gif

via http://mrshughestoaster.tumblr.com

Carson, the head butler, distrusts this electric toaster as much as he distrusted the telephone when it first came to Downton, but the electric toaster provided a convenience that was part of the modern era. A pamphlet in the collection of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula describes how one could make toast right at the breakfast table instead of standing over the stove — “Crisp hot toast made before your eyes. On the dining room table — or where there is an electric light outlet — just as you like it.”

This advertisement for the GE Radiant Toaster was printed sometime between 1908 and 1917, just as the first successful electric toasters were coming onto the market. Missoulians may have been as excited as Mrs. Hughes about trying these new contraptions, and after 1908, they had ready access to the electricity necessary to power the devices, too.

While electricity had been in Missoula since the late 19th century, it took the construction of the Milltown (formerly Clark) Dam in 1905-08 to provide the city with reliable power for its street cars, street lights and, of course, toasters.

The toasters in the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula’s collection date from the 1920s and 30s, when most urban homes had reliable power and many different companies were manufacturing toasters for home use.

Though the design has changed, the mechanism for toasting bread has remained remarkably consistent over the years. Electric current heats coils of metal wire, which turn your bread a toasty brown (while “not drying it hard as a bone,” as the Radiant Toaster ad boasted).

For most of the ‘teens and ’20s, electric toasters looked like this:

Place the bread in the little door, close, then toast until done. This is the Marion Giant Flipflop, called such because you “flipflopped” the bread once one side was toasted to get the other side done. These models don’t appear to have an on/off switch – you had to unplug the machine to turn it off – which must have made life more interesting!