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Making life easier for the Brooklyn housewife (and househusband)

Nov 24, 2009 2:17 PM | 3 comments

I often wonder what the life of a 1950s housewife was like.  How did Brooklyn housewives manage to accomplish their appointed tasks each day?  Well, convenience and help seem to have been the keys to the homemaker’s daily routine.  Exciting advancements came through machines, pre-cooked foods, and easy solutions to prepared food storage. The Brooklyn Collection has photographs and ephemera that showcase moments in the life of a housewife and -- a happy surprise-- a 1950s househusband too! 

In 1953, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran a photograph and article on the revolutionary idea that no one in their right mind would want to leave the comfort of their apartment building to buy such a simple item as say, a carton of milk. The answer?  The Mechanical Milkman!

 Mechanical Milkman, Brooklyn Eagle, Feb. 6, 1953

Here, we see a picturesquely dressed housewife purchasing milk in the lobby of her apartment building.  This machine was on trial at the Clinton Hill apartments and eventually was installed in over 70 buildings in the city.  Refreshed daily, the mechanical milkman held 140 quarts of milk.  The article ends on a speculative note: There's no excuse now for meeting the new neighbors on the pretext of borrowing a cup of milk.  However, there's always that cup of sugar.  But who knows what the machine age will cum up with next."  Indeed.  Maybe a robot chef?

Sadly, the machine age did not come up with a robot chef, or at least the Eagle did not report on it.  Something close to a robot chef however, came a few years before the Mechanical Milkman.   Abraham & Straus found a convenient way to help the busy housewife prepare meals with pre-cooked entrees and side dishes ready to take home and serve.  New Food Shop, Brooklyn Eagle, Feb. 12, 1951

The new food shop was created "for the woman whose daily schedule requires that dinner be whisked on to the table in a matter of minutes."  This photo shows  the "Prepared Food Section" stocked with "ready-to-serve and take-home" foods.  Today, we can find prepared food counters in just about every grocery store, offering everything from roasted meats and vegetables to super gourmet organic rotisserie chicken, couscous and fully prepared Thanksgiving dinners.  Did Abraham and Straus start the prepared food revolution?  Probably not, but I am sure  plenty of housewives enjoyed shopping for clothes and food for the whole family in one place. 

And what about storage?  You have purchased several delicious Ebinger's cakes and taken them out of the box and--Oh no! -- you've set out one too many cakes! What is to be done?

What excellent questions presented by these housewives.  We all need help finding new ways to serve and store desserts.  Ebinger Baking Company of Brooklyn published this guide to food storage to help answer such questions.  A chart included inside the brochure was meant to be cut out and hung on the fridge door. It outlines how to store, refresh, and serve various Ebinger's products.  Some suggestions include eating desserts while still partially frozen and an italicized note "Freezing does not provide indefinite storage".  

While the housewife has been the focus of this post, let's not forget that husbands can be rather helpful around the home as well.  While househusbands were, I'm sure, few and far between in the 1950s, I managed to find this photograph of Bob Baugh, London Broil Expert.  The caption to the photograph reads, "Bob Baugh deftly flips a flank steak for London broil. An old hand at helping his wife get the meals, he thinks that perhaps he will have more to do in the culinary line within the next few weeks after the arrival of an heir."  Wow, what a helpful househusband! 

London Broil Expert, Brooklyn Eagle, Oct. 24, 1952

Bob inspired me to take a picture of my own Brooklyn househusband vintage 2009 for this post. Tim is an excellent cook and very much in charge of the day to day running of our apartment.  Here we see my househusband preparing dinner for me on my return from a long day at work.  While Tim is not a London Broil expert (I don't think that he has ever even cooked it), I believe I was quite happy with the bacon-wrapped trout and roasted potatoes.  Yum! 

Househusband Tim in a Brooklyn kitchen, Olivia Morales, Nov. 20, 2009


11/26/2009 10:36:18 PM #

One of the great memories of my childhood was brought back by the picture of that milk machine. The building next door to us, 1225 Avenue R, had one in the lobby. Almost 50 years later I am remembering the hum of its refrigerator, the sound of the change going in and the feeling of amazement as a container of milk thudded down for the taking. Best of all for my mom, who had babies at home, she could sent me as a 7 year old next door to get milk - no streets to cross.


11/30/2009 2:11:10 PM #

Fun post!


12/1/2009 3:38:29 PM #

The milk machine reminds me of the plethora of vending machines one sees in Japan, selling milk and all sorts of other goods. Not a bad idea, especially if the weather is really bad!