Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets - An unforgettable impact

Date of Record: July 8, 2013

7/6/2013  -  posted with permission of The Courier Times, local newspaper.
Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets: An unforgettable impact
Factory brought prosperity, national notice - and even helped name a street
The Hoosier Manufacturing Co. was founded by J.S. McQuinn (far left) and his son, Emmett G. Photos courtesy Doug Magers and the book
The Hoosier Manufacturing Co. was founded by J.S. McQuinn (far left) and his son, Emmett G. Photos courtesy Doug Magers and the book "New Castle: A Pictorial History" by G. Bradley Publishing.
Historically Speaking

"Kitchen pianos."
"Cupboards with brains."
"Scientific pantries."

These are just a few of the names used to describe what was a modern marvel for housewives across America in the early 1900s - the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet.

For 40 years, some four million free-standing Hoosier Kitchen cabinets were made. By 1921, one in 10 U.S. homes had a Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet.

And to think, they were made right here in New Castle.

Today, they are collector's items and the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet has a permanent place in the Henry County history book.

New Castle's good fortune started with a tragic fire. In 1900, fire destroyed James S. McQuinn's Albany, Ind., factory.

"Well, I guess it's all over now," son Emmett McQuinn said.

"No, it isn't all over," J.S. McQuinn replied. "We are just now getting a good start. This simply means that we will go to New Castle or some other place and go at it right."

The McQuinns headed to New Castle, where a $2,000 incentive was waiting for him.

"We were then driven way out to Lewisville Pike to see the Speeder Cycle Company's factory. As some of the citizens said at the time, 'it was located clear out beyond the old fairgrounds' and it did look like it was an awfully long ways from town. At that time, there were no sidewalks south of Circle Street and all land east of the road was farm land.

"We were sure we wanted to locate in New Castle but the matter was still undecided. He and I finally concluded we would take one long chance that the deal would go through all right and that New Castle would be our new home."

The McQuinns were anxious to run a national advertisement, but when asked what address to put in the ad, they weren't sure.

The old bicycle plant they were taking over was located on what was then known as Lewisville Pike. But the McQuinns didn't know that at the time.

"Well, we sent the ad in and gave the address of the company as 1200 South 14th St., New Castle, Ind. At that time, there was no 14th Street in New Castle, but 14th sounded as good to us as anything, so we used it. Some five or six years after we came here, the town board re-named the streets and Lewisville Pike became 14th Street."

The Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet legacy includes far more than just naming a street, however.

-- The Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet Co. was said to be the first in the nation to offer a time-payment plan. For just $1 a week, a homemaker could have one. Total retail cost was $49.50 in 1918, so in a year's time, you'd have it paid off.

-- Peak employment included 700 men and women working at the factory; 40 to 50 traveling salesmen; an office staff of 60 to 70.

-- During peak years, nearly 700 cabinets a day were produced. At one time, Hoosier was the largest manufacturer of kitchen cabinets in the U.S.

Interestingly, the cabinets began as sort of a side venture for the McQuinns, who started their business producing seed separators but started to make Hoosiers during the winter months to keep workers busy.

But the seeds of this new item spread faster than seed separator orders came in and a phenomenon was born.

As the years went by, Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets kept getting better and better. Features included flour bins with sifters, lined silver drawers, rust proof and - more importantly - mouse-proof cake drawers, mesh vegetable bins, pan racks, cookbook holders, glass spice jars and sugar bins.

Later models also included:

-- Pencil holder by flour bin

-- Clock-faced shopping list

-- File for grocery bills

-- Money tray

Like many things, changing times ultimately ended the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet's rein of popularity. The late Betty O'Neal Giboney, a staff writer at The Courier-Times for more than 50 years, wrote:

"During the 1930s, wall cabinets had been introduced. Developers of apartment buildings which could place huge orders began using stationary wall cabinets, just as private homes were doing. Workers were changing, too, and they were becoming restless over wages. A strike was called. The elder McQuinn had died and his son was in charge. With no stomach for a labor dispute, E.Q. McQuinn sold the business in 1942 and it was subsequently liquidated by the purchasers. During World War II, the buildings were used as government warehouses."

But while the production ceased, the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet lives on as true collector's items. An advertisement in The Saturday Evening Post said it all:

"I too have abolished slavery," the headline read. The copy read: "Drudgery has ceased to be their master. With its many features and labor-saving inventions, the Hoosier has made their kitchen work easy and enjoyable."

Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets are on display at The Henry County Historical Society museum. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. each day. For more information, call 529-4028 or visit www.henrycountyhs.org.