4 Retro Culinary Inventions

Where is our House of Tomorrow? When do we get to speculate on the crazy doodads and whatchamacallits that will make our kitchens and eateries more convenient and awe-inspiring decades from now? Considering how fast we’re racing ahead of ourselves with technology, it wouldn’t be surprising if our cooking spaces looked entirely different in 2043. By then, we may be ridiculing some of the antiquated and inefficient devices currently used to prepare and serve food. But since that day has yet to arrive, let’s continue to feel more advanced than our predecessors; let’s take a moment to point and laugh at a few of their more peculiar, now obsolete or first-phase, inventions that attempted to bring the future to our stomachs.

Horn and Hardart AutomatHorn & Hardart Automat

The success of Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart’s Automat lasted almost a century, so let’s not laugh too hard at this one. In 1902, these business-minded food service professionals brought to America a machine that dispensed comfort food staples like creamed spinach, Salisbury steak, and shepherd’s pie when they opened their first automated eatery in Philadelphia.

On-the-go diners would drop an H&H nickel into the Automat’s slot and brace themselves for an seminally American meal of immediate gratification. The rushed and hungry embraced the machines through the 70s before The Burger King laid siege to the Automat’s territories and fast food stole away our clogged hearts and ballooning stomachs.

I can’t be the only one taken by the idea of long aisles of gleaming chrome housing a variety of freshly-prepared hot and cold foods tempting me from behind sterile, sparkling glass windows. Though a New York attempt at a comeback proved unsuccessful, I think the Horn & Hardart feed-machines deserve another chance. But I fear they’d reemerge offering bowls of locally-sourced beans and franks priced at $15, looking self-satisfied behind the handlebar mustache decals slapped onto their glassy faces.

The automatic tea-maker on display in the London Science Museum's The Secret Life of the Home exhibit.
The automatic tea-maker on display in the London Science Museum’s The Secret Life of the Home exhibit.


The early version of the automatic tea maker pictured above was hatched up by Doc Brown lite English clockmaker Albert E. Richardson in the late 19th century. Richardson’s design combined a kettle, spirit stove, alarm clock, and kettle tilter. It also relied on a match being lit at the right time for the apparatus to work. That doesn’t sound dangerous at all.

When I don't get my morning tea, I go on a murder spree!
When I don’t get my morning tea, I go on a murder spree!

The automatic tea maker was the French lover of appliances, waking its owner with a slap and a kiss. Richardson wasn’t the first or last inventor to come up with this cure to morning rage. Samuel Rowbottom, inventor and victim of unfortunate surnames, patented his gas-fueled tea-making apparatus in 1892. In fact, the early 20th century was chock-a-bloc full of hive-minded tea addicts like George Absolom, who named his device the Teesmade. The Teasmade spelling didn’t come about until William Hermann Brenner Thornton invented his prototype for Goblin, an appliance company that was later sold to the Swan Brand.

The Swan Brand has continued to produce Teasmades and a number of updated models are available for purchase. You too can enjoy the benefits of boiling tea brewing near your face while you sleep.

Brown Bobby Doughnut Ad
Brown Bobby Machine

I’ve found my new calling in life. I’m going to open a chain of Brown Bobby shops and repopularize these triangular doughnuts. I’m telling you, this is going to be the next cupcake. Maybe I’ll call my chain “Twinkles,” pile high the icing, and inexplicably make millions off an old concept.

I’ll attract the health nuts by marketing the Depression-era snack as did the now-defunct Food Display Machine Corporation, touting the treats as greaseless wonders. Let’s not mention that the Brown Bobby recipe calls for a metric ton of fat in the doughnuts themselves and that the machine requires a coating of paraffin.

The Chicago food company originally placed the Brown Bobby machine on the market for that unimaginative entrepreneur who outstretched his arms for an easy solution to starting a small business. The first machine appeared around the 1920s or 30s and came with a manual that included instructions for starting a Brown Bobby business.

The doughnut-making machine has become something of a rarity as many current owners pass them down instead of selling.

So who owns a Brown Bobby maker and is willing to adopt a 30 year-old with big dreams and a barrel of lard?

Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich MakerHamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker

Oh those cracked inventors of yore. Always coming up with the most ridiculous tools in a pathetic attempt to encourage astounding levels of laziness among the masses. Just look at this crazy breakfast sandwich-making apparatus. This has to be a product of the 50s, pre-McMuffin.

Wait. This is a modern invention?

We’re obviously as kooky and convenience-seeking in our kitchens as our grandparents and great-grandparents. I try not to think about the fact that I own a smoothie maker that also happens to be a dough mixer and food processor, and that I’ve only used it for one of the above functions about once a month since the initial thrill faded.

So laugh it up people of 2043, but look in your own cupboards and storage spaces while you do it.




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  • Tasha B. (heidenkind)


    • sharifahwilliams

      Yep. Just to keep it from sticking I guess. Still. Gross.