Every Plate Tells a Story: Horn and Hardart

At the turn of the last century, the potteries along the Ohio River were working overtime to fulfill rapidly increasing orders – bricks for streets, clay products for drainage, durable toilet wares, and dinnerware. American potteries had developed new production methods and, importantly for consumers, the china produced was equal to the wares produced in England. There was a celebratory air in the potteries as described by editors in business journals.

Glass and Pottery Salesman 1921

In Beaver Falls, the annual holiday loaf was brief. Indeed, the customary holiday inactivity which extended from December 24 to January 3 gave way to a short holiday break. The economic boom was no less evident on the streets of cities. Two entrepreneurs,  Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, opened a luncheonette in Philadelphia automated equipment imported from Germany. City workers with little time for lunch filled the restaurants – they claimed one out of sixteen people ate once a day in a Horn & Hardart.

Two entrepreneurs,  Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, opened a luncheonette in Philadelphia with automated equipment. City workers with little time for lunch filled the restaurants.  Soon, Horn & Hardart prepared food for carry-out by the consumer.

Messiers  Horn and Hardart did not cut corners – they offered fresh food prepared carefully. In The Automat: Birth of a Fast Food Nation, Christopher Klein writes:

While Horn & Hardart Automats delivered food quickly, meals were made from scratch using fresh, high-quality ingredients. Items were prepared shortly before they were eaten, and food was not allowed to linger overnight. Freshly squeezed orange juice that sat for two hours was poured down the drain.

Back along the Ohio River, Mayer China was producing Marion for the new automats in New York. Marion is an Art Deco teal transferware pattern. The simple design is charming, but not cloying. It is warm and comfortable not commercial.

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Marion by Mayer China

The resplendent surroundings of the Horn & Hardart Automats—with marble counters and floors, stained glass, chrome fixtures, ornately carved ceilings and Art Deco signage—more resembled Parisian bistros than sterile, dingy fast food outlets. Food was served on real china and eaten with solid flatware.                                      Automat: Birth of a Fast Food Nation

The Horn & Hardart Automat was infamous. The Automat was embraced by working men and women with little time to spare. The automat is the perfect symbol of the machine age. Horn & Hardart opened the doors to the modern world. Sixty years later, Horn & Hardart closed its doors and ironically, so did many of the potteries.

Through the years, Horn & Hardart made its way into movies. I was surprised to find the following clip from The Catered Affair. Look carefully, they are using Marion.

We just found quite a few stacks of Mayer China. I am amazed that they are still bright and shiny. Almost bullet-proof. When these dishes were produced, the cost of a cup of coffee was 5 cents! It is funny to read the menu. Funnier still to begin to understand how old I am – living in a post-modern world in the age of the computer.

Drum roll. . .. a place setting of Marion.

 

Marion, Mayer China ca. 1945

 

 

 

Written by Putnam & Speedwell

Historian. Collector. Curator.