Can you ID stovetop utensils in a 1920s kitchen?

stovetop still kettle toaster sadiron
Do you recognise all the things sitting on the 1920s stove? Photo by Billy Hathorn

This kitchen is on an early dude ranch set up for city dwellers who wanted an “American West” experience on vacation. Perhaps it’s a little more folksy than some other kitchens of the 1920s, but everything in there is authentic, and could have been found in other homes of that era.

Before I start naming names, have you had a chance to ID the things kept on “Mama” Holzwarth’s stove? The tea kettle is easy, and the classic speckled enamel coffeepot too. These don’t really look big enough to supply breakfast-time hot drinks for a full house of visitors. At busy times 50 people had their meals served in this one building.

In the middle of the stove are two sadiron bases: one with the detachable handle fixed on, and one without. Although heat-it-on-the-stove flat irons, aka sadirons, had been around for centuries, this particular design is an American classic originally patented in 1871 by Mary Potts. In the days of non-electric ironing, the spare base would have been heating on the stove, ready to be used when the other got too cool for effective clothes pressing. Then you’d switch the cool wooden handle over to the hot iron.

If you don’t recognise the dark metal item on the left, it may help to click on the link below to reach a bigger version of the picture. This item was used for campfire cooking as well as in the home kitchen, though I imagine it working better on a camping stove than balanced precariously over an open fire. Yes, it’s a toaster with a base to set on the heat and four wire racks to hold slices of bread, rather like this. The long tongs: what are they for? Probably for reaching into the fire burning inside the stove – but whether for rearranging logs or deliberately charring some “toasted” food, I don’t know.

Now for the big copper pot with bulbous lid and a tube draining away from it. Perhaps it’s the most difficult thing to identify in the picture. If the ranch owners told you it was only there for “medicinal” reasons, would that help? This is a still for making moonshine or hooch or whatever name you wanted to call your homemade liquor. Heat from the stove would certainly get the distilling process going, but I guess it would be a little risky using it in full view of your guests while alcohol was strictly illegal. Historic kitchens sometimes display items which weren’t there originally, and I don’t know whether the Holzwarths made their own distilled spirits. If they did, it may not have been in the kitchen. A quiet corner seems more likely.

The stove would have burned wood behind the left-hand doors. The central oven door has a temperature gauge, and the right hand section probably held hot water. You could warm plates, buns etc. in the top part or keep cooked food warm in there before serving.


If you like to ID old kitchen items, try the things in a historic English kitchen or a German kitchen around 1930.


Photographer credited in caption. Link to original here: Kitchen. Also see more picture info here.


2 thoughts on “Can you ID stovetop utensils in a 1920s kitchen?

  1. The long tongs are used to reset the burning wood in the stove, so it would burn in the right place and more wood could be added. My family used them in the 50’s. A BIG part of being a good cook was to be able to get the stove at the right temperature. Note that the stove top and oven were heated by the same fire, so the right temperature both on the surface AND in the oven was very difficult. My grandmother could tell how hot the oven was by opening the door and putting her hand in.


  2. The top of the stove is the “warming oven” – which we used for eating plates before serving beefsteak hot off the cast iron frying pan.
    The item on the side is the “reservoir” which heated water for washing or doing dishes. Someone had to carry water and pour it in to be heated.


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