Where Do You Fit In – Finding Your War Job

When the United States entered World War II, American women were called on to serve the nation in many ways. Unprecedented numbers of women entered the ranks of factory workers, helping American industry meet the wartime production demands for planes, tanks, ships, and weapons. It was through this aspect of war work that the most famous image of female patriotism in World War II emerged, Rosie the Riveter. At the height of the war, there were 19,170,000 women in the labor force. Between 1940 and 1945, the female labor force grew by 50 percent. (Source: Susan M. Hartmann, The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982).)

I just completed a quiz included in the December 1943 Woman’s Day magazine to help me determine “Where Do I Fit In”.  For women who were contemplating a war job, this quiz may have helped to correctly choose the best category to explore.

Ranked answers bring women to ten different categories: A) Manual Jobs, B) Mechanical Jobs, C)Painting or Textile Jobs, D) Scientific Jobs, E) Clerical Jobs, F) Civil Service and Government Jobs, G) Service Jobs, H) Retail Jobs, I) Social Jobs, and J)Inspection and Supervising Jobs.

Women in Manual jobs were needed in canneries, meatpacking or agricultural work.

Mechanical jobs meant lathe operation, drill press, plastic molds, wood working, welding, riveting, or instrument making.

Painting and textile jobs were for making parachutes, cover airplane wings, do upholstery in planes, spray painting, doing insignia painting or being a “doper” on plane wings.

Scientific jobs were for schoolteachers, and they could do draftsman work, tool design, radio communications, color testing, work in the food conservation program, do food dehydrating, become a chemist’s aide or a meteorologist.

Clerical jobs “may not have the glamour of overalls and a blow torch”, but equally essential was the typist, file clerk, messenger, tabulating machine operator, stenographer and production clerk.

Service jobs were for ‘essentially feminine’ women who had “nothing aggressive or masculine in their make-up”. Think scientific child care, running day care nurseries, being a hospital aide, a dietician, teacher or athletic director. She could also run a cafeteria in a war plant.

Retail jobs for those “quick witted and easy to know” girls. According to the quiz, she can take up merchandising, be a stock girl or a checker or get a desk job. She could also fill a variety of jobs in banks, brokerage houses, or insurance companies.

Social jobs were for those “as gregarious as they come”…You probably talk too much but you are entertaining and gay and full of the joy of life so who cares?” These women were advised to become a ticket salesman, trainman, a reservation clerk, a Western Union gal, or a telephone operator.

Inspection and Supervising jobs were for those who did not like the detail work but were true-born executives at planning it for others to do. “You inspire confidence and if you will remember to keep a tight rein on that bubbling impatience of yours, you will have great success in handling other women. You like me and work well with them and you are probably smart enough not to let them know that you can out-think them in many instances. These are jobs for executive women. You’ll fit the bill for inspector or supervisor in war plant or private industry.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turns out I tied in highest rank for two categories: Manual and Clerical.

Questions for Manual:

  1. Do you read serial stories in the magazine?
  2. Can you knit rapidly without watching the pattern?
  3. Can you hammer a nail without bending it?
  4. Can you stand routine mechanical work without getting bored?
  5. Can you adjust yourself to doing the same thing over and over?
  6. Do you do jigsaw puzzles?
  7. Do you follow exactly the recipes in the cook book?
  8. Do you listen daily to the radio serials?

Manual Jobs: You are one of those salt of the earth gals – the kind that makes a swell wife and mother. You are kind, generous conscientious and painstaking. You never will set the world on fire as you have no creative ability but you could fit right into the production plan at any defense work near your home. You could do bench work, polishing, detail assembling, munition loading, painting of small parts, sewing, winding coils or sorting. You could also do valuable work in canneries, meatpacking or any agricultural work that might be near your community.

 

Questions for Clerical:

  1. Have you studied typing?
  2. Can you do filing?
  3. Are you the quiet “listening” type?
  4. Have you a good memory?
  5. Are you a methodical housekeeper, finishing each task before starting another?
  6. Can you operate any business machine?
  7. Do you keep your dresser drawers so that you can always find things?
  8. Do you know shorthand?

Clerical Jobs: You are the kind of person that the world needs more of today. You are quiet and self-effacing, the perfect buffer for the bombastic dynamos of business. You do each job with a careful eye to details that others forget. You are a true and loyal friend and devotion to duty is your motto. While your jobs may not have the glamour of overalls and a blow torch, they are equally essential when it comes to making the wheels go round. You could be a typist, a file clerk, a messenger, a tabulating machine operator, do stenography or be a production clerk.

 

How much fun was that? Now, back to work I go!

Hot in the Kitchen…And Everywhere Else

Summer heat. Thank goodness for air conditioning, right? Can you imagine living without it? Can you imagine a summer road trip without air conditioning in the car?

Although it was invented by Willis Carrier in 1902, air conditioning was not a home feature during WWII. It was used primarily for industrial quality control.

Air conditioning became an attraction during the summer of 1925 when the Rivoli Theater in New York City installed it as an experiment to see if summer receipts would be positively affected by such a posh comfort. Boy, was it ever well received!

Soon, movie theaters across the country were installing air conditioning systems and pulling in crowds that went to the picture show primarily for the comfort of cooled air and a couple hours of relief from summer heat.

But how else did one survive the heat on the homefront during the war?

Building materials were different. Homes built from earthen materials have been proving their worth since Man lived in caves, but how often do we still find new construction of stone or brick? These materials kept heat out.

Buildings were structured differently. Think old-school, literally. Do you ever pass an old schoolhouse (becoming more rare by the day) and notice how different they are compared to modern school buildings? Back when school days were not called for being too hot, they were built of stone or brick with high ceilings, transoms, ceiling fans, and windows that actually opened and let in cross breezes between rooms on the opposite sides of the building.

Homes too, were structured differently. The layout of a typical floor plan had a stacked effect that allowed open stairways that vented heat up. Upper floors were used only at night with the windows open – hopefully with a breeze of cooler temperatures.

Turrets, cupulas, vestibules, or a widow’s walk were not just attractive on the top of a home, but also served the purpose of ventilating the whole house, or acted as a wind catcher no matter direction the wind blew.

Awnings and window hangs were added to shade out the sun. Shade trees were planted on the east and west side of houses to add additional shade.

And let’s not forget the importance of porches. Some were screened on all sides to create a sleeping porch and others simply served as a place to sit out away from the heat inside.

Iceboxes were called on for relief. Some folks shared stories of putting bed sheets or even their underwear in the icebox or freezer to bring the temperature down to comfortable.

Natural pools weren’t for scenic beauty only. You’d find people at creeks, streams, and lakes taking a dip or wringing out towels to wear around their necks while motoring through or working in the garden.

Kitchens were put to use. Summertime meals were no-bake as much as possible. Sandwiches with a variety of spreads, homemade lemonade, fresh from the garden salads and raw vegetables were typical. Cold soups were plain, but welcomed. No-bake desserts were perfected as refrigerator technology and community freezers became more common.

From the July 1943 Health-for-Victory Club Meal Planner, today’s menu:
Breakfast – Orange Juice, Cooked Cereal with Whole Milk, Buttered Whole Wheat Toast, Coffee and Milk

Lunch – Cream Soup of Leftover Vegetables, Egg and Celery Sandwich Filling on Whole Wheat Bread, Apples, Cookies

Dinner – Potatoburgers, Sour Cream Cabbage, Grated Carrot Salad, Soybean Bread – Butter or Fortified Margarine, Sweet Cherries or Apricots, and Buttermilk

Lunchbox for Tomorrow – Cream Soup of Leftover Vegetables, Liver Sandwich Filling on Whole Wheat Bread, Deviled Cheese Sandwich Filling on Bran Bread, Whole Tomato with Salt and an Apple.

A Social Era Ends

Following WWII, air conditioning was a noted amenity of newly constructed suburban homes to many newlywed couples. Adding modern cooling remains a big project to homes built prior to the war. As common as AC has become, most of us can’t imagine living without it and its constant hum in the background. Where winter used to draw us indoors to hibernate, air conditioning in the summer has accomplished the same anti-social act. Instead of sitting on the porch or under a tree with neighbors and iced drinks to cool off, we stay inside only going out to rush from our cooled homes to a cooled car on our way to a cooled store or office to do our day’s chores or errands (usually toting a light sweater in case the building is too cold!). Yes, we are miserable in summer’s heat but maybe we can be miserable together again sometime.

Lessons Learned

One sunny day last summer my neighbor’s daughter, age nine, came to my door on an errand to borrow some sugar or an egg, or something like that.*

 

As I handed off the item she was there to fetch I also wrote out a note to her mother and handed it to her.  She said, “I can’t read that.  In cursive, I can only read my name.”

 

Her statement stayed with me after she ran off and I thought about it throughout the day — and still am as this is almost a year later when I write this. I had heard about The Common Core education standards years ago when in 2013 it was determined cursive was no longer a needed skill to teach in school. It takes too long to teach, especially when increasingly computers, tablets, and phone texting has all but totally replaced every day message delivery.

 

In the context of The War In My Kitchen, I’m feeling very concerned about the extinction of family recipes. For one reason, while some home-delivery cooking programs like Hello Fresh® and Blue Apron® are bringing cooking back to the home, they are making it almost too easy. It is real food, and in many cases good food, but with it magically showing up at the door, we’re not learning about where food really comes from.  Not even from a grocery store anymore, are kids to think cabbage grows in a FedEx® truck?

 

Second, the corporate recipes are coming printed on glossy card stock in color with lots and lots of how-to pictures through the steps. We’re missing lessons handed down from family members actually showing the techniques and family way of doing the steps.

 

Third, the saddest to me is that we are losing the hand-written — cursive — recipe card with ingredient stains on a scrap of paper or index card. These cards appear to be written in code to someone younger than fifth or sixth grade.

 

Maybe one day it will become in fashion again to learn old-fashioned cooking and baking using the “retro” system of recipes written in cursive; I hope so anyway.

 

If we move too far beyond the current generation of not learning cursive, the recipes will fade and become lost. Sure, we can take the time to transcribe the hand-written recipes to computer and print them out or store them on a flash drive, but we lose something in translation when we stop reading the recipe written in the hand of a great-grandmother or great-aunt who learned very well the core lessons of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

 

 

* Yes, even though I live in the very modern suburbs of Chicago, I insist on old-fashioned treatment from my neighbors where we indeed pass pantry items over the fence or share recipe details. We need to get back to this sort of living and I plan to share some advice that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt shared with me (and others) very soon.

Christmas 1943

What was Christmas like during the war?

 

For a peek, I turned to the December 1943 issue of Woman’s Day Magazine.

 

“Santa Claus’ bag is still bursting with goodies for Christmas stockings after three years of war. There are enough pecans, peanuts, walnuts, and filberts to fill the stocking feet, but not any of our favorite imported holiday brazil nuts, pistachios, and cashews. More raw materials than last year have been made available for the manufacture of novelty candies, clear candy figures, and hardtack for Christmas.”

 

“Fewer chocolates are on the shelves for civilians since candy makers are manufacturing more 5-cent bars in order to reach more people. The greater part of the familiar candy-bar brands are being sold to soldiers, sailors and marines, while the newer brands, made in place of the ordinary chocolates, find themselves on the 3-for-10 counters.

 

The rich chocolates, however, that are made especially for the Christmas trade are as numerous as last year, but their boxes are more economically designed and wear no cellophane.”

 

A Christmas ham tradition remained strong during the war. Famers produced in record as their part in fighting the war, seeing their honor duty to keep our troops and Allies fed, and to keep everyone on the home front content. 127 million pigs were raised for slaughter in 1943; a 6% increase above their goal for the year. This is nearly 5 million more pigs raised than in 1942. Today, an average of 117 million pigs are slaughtered each year (2009).

 

Do you remember the tradition of stringing popcorn for decorating the tree? How about popcorn balls? In 1943, it was announced that there would not be enough popcorn supply for decorative and eating purposes. “Although the popcorn crop is larger than prewar times, it is lower than last year’s – and more people want to buy it. Corn syrup supplies for making popcorn balls are average; honey, a little above. And you might try puffed wheat balls for variety.”

 

“Good news comes in an orange skin. Christmas will usher in the big crops of oranges from Florida and California which are estimated to be ten per cent larger than the 1942-1943 crop. Tangerines, at the height of their season during the holidays, will be only slightly less plentiful than during the second war-Christmas. There are enough lemons for everyone to haul all the lemon-pie filling he might long for. Candied orange, lemon and grapefruit peel are plentiful.”

 

“There are few canned cranberries for holiday dinners. But now, as in November, there are fresh berries on most markets.”

 

“We have as many turkeys ready for the oven on Christmas day as were available last year. And there is a big market of roasting chickens, but no capons – they require too much feed for wartime production. Geese and ducks and guinea hens are plentiful in most farming districts.”

Pitch Black

Has anyone ever told you that carrots are good for your eyes and will help you see better at night?  If you’re like me, you were told this by a parent or grandparent that probably heard it first during World War II. Here’s where it all began…

 

From my hometown newspaper (The Ripon Commonwealth in Ripon, Wisconsin):

 

A test black-out will be made on Friday Evening, September 18, 1942 9:00 to 9:15 o’clock.

 

Air raid wardens are asked to prepare their respective areas for this black-out and see that he following general instructions are carried out:

 

  1. All lights and illumination outside or visible from the outside of any building, either through doors, windows, skylights, or otherwise, shall be immediately put out. Lights inside any building may be kept on or turned on only where no lighting is visible from the outside.
  2. No door, window or other exit shall be opened if the opening of the same will allow light to be visible from the outside.
  3. All lights on any signs or billboard or other similar structure shall be immediately put out.
  4. All street, traffic and beacon lights shall be immediately put out.
  5. All persons, except duly authorized persons, shall immediately leave all streets, squares parks and open spaces and shall proceed to the nearest cover, avoiding the crossing of streets, alleys and other public places as much as possible.
  6. Operators of vehicular traffic shall immediately draw to the side of the highway or street and stop in such a manner and in such a place so as not to double park or obstruct the reasonable use of the highway or street, fire hydrant or police or fire station driveway or other emergency driveway. Extinguish all lights.
  7. No person shall wear any arm band or other insignia issued by the Fond du Lac County Council of Defense unless he shall be entitled to wear the same under the rules and regulations of said Council of Defense.

 

Not common inland as much as coastal areas, black-outs seemed to be one of the scariest realities of nation at war. Pitch black. Everywhere. To avoid aerial landmark detection should a bomber threaten the heartland and major supplier of food, black-out drills were important.

 

Have you ever noticed stop lights have a shield over the top of each light? The addition of the top shields and traffic lights were a result of World War II and the need to minimize the appearance of streets and heavily populated areas to hide from bombers overhead.

Oh, and those carrots? Well, it turns out the rate of accidents and injuries dramatically increased during black out times.  Drivers and pedestrians had a harder time seeing and avoiding each other. It was a problem for sure and one of the safety advisories given by the government that stuck in the mind of my grandmother — eat carrots.  They help you see better in the dark.

Betty…Rosie…Please Meet My Dear Friend – Diana Prince

Betty Crocker and Rosie the Riveter held their own as fictional female super heroines of WWII. But, let’s not forget Wonder Woman who made her debut in 1941.

 

Prior to television, media entertainment consisted of radio shows, newspapers, and comic books. The latter being sold at a rate of 15 million a month. Rationed supplies of paper and war production make it difficult to document how comic book sales held during the war, but it is no accident that their continued popularity led to the introduction of a women super hero who fought war with love instead of violence.

 

Created in a time when women were increasingly asked to take on some male roles — factory work, wearing pants, holding down the home front, etc. William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, based a character on his own wife, Elizabeth, who was ahead of her time in regards to what was socially acceptable for women.

 

While women were not encouraged to earn a degree, Elizabeth held three. She was an attorney and a Harvard-graduated psychologist. Elizabeth was on the front lines of women’s liberation, specifically on voting equality and reproduction rights. Her husband’s motivation behind creating the comic heroine in 1941 was to influence the public into accepting a new independent woman. Wonder Woman was incredibly capable, yet beautiful, kind and still feminine.

 

Wonder Woman was quickly met with resistance, dressed in her short skirt and a revealing top that had no straps. She was deemed, “insufficiently dressed”. It took roughly a year for the creator of Wonder Woman to come forward. The public outcry of indecency was met with the identity of an internationally famous psychologist (William and Elizabeth had met at Harvard pursuing their psychology degrees). And it was good that Wonder Woman’s creator was a psychologist as the skeptical crowd needed to hear that such a heroine was not a bad thing.

 

Dr. Marston was pushed to explain how the character was not a detriment to public decency and young minds. As Marston once put it, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”

 

As her acceptance and popularity grew, so did the team responsible for making Diana Prince…err, Wonder Woman, who she is today.  Dr. Marston died in 1947, but Wonder Woman and her fight for peace continued under the creative mind of Joyce Hummel who was only 18 years old in 1944 when she was hired to write the comic strip.

 

Even though Wonder Woman was created before the US entered WWII, influences from the conflict and Hummel’s young age during the war play a huge role on the core values of Wonder Woman’s story. The original outfit was American patriotic, of course – blue with white stars, red top. Pin-up poses are reminiscent of nose art on a bomber.

Oh…one more thing, Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth?  It turns out Dr. Marston is the original inventor of the lie detector.  Photos of the prototype device show test subjects wrapped in wires that measure pulse and blood pressure.  Wires…closely resembling a truth lasso of sorts.

 

 

Source:  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/origin-story-wonder-woman-180952710/#p3A6sfvzRTReOGyi.99

Milkweed the Hero Plant

Milkweed…

Today, nature lovers treasure the common milkweed because it offers crucial habitat to the disappearing Monarch butterfly. But back in 1944, military planners treasured the plant as a raw material in the war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

 

Milkweed seeds have white, wispy hairs referred to as “floss”. When the seed pod cracks open, the seeds are distributed by the winds, an ingenious evolutionary adaption for survival.

 

In an era before the pervasive use of synthetic fibers, the value of milkweed floss lay in its buoyancy. The US government used it in the manufacture of life preservers needed for its airman and sailors. Life preservers were critical to Allied success, since so much of the war was fought on or over water.

 

One problem, though, was that it would take upward of three years to produce a commercial crop of milkweed to supply the need. Thus the government had no choice but to make the unusual call for the collection of seed pods wherever the plant grew wild.

 

Schoolchildren spent untold hours walking fencerows, roadsides and railroad right of ways looking for milkweed, which before the war was considered little more than a weed.

 

Onion sacks were distributed to the kids to carry the collected pods, and children received 15¢ per bag. It is estimated that 11 million pounds of milkweed floss were gathered during the war and may be the reason why certain species of the plant are now threatened by extinction.

 

I came across several milkweed plants in various stages on my parents’ farm in Central Wisconsin. It’s not a pretty plant, but it sure is an important plant both historically and currently!

 

Consider planting milkweed in honor of the crucial role it played to the success of our country. What a comeback it would be for a “weed” that gave its life in order to save the lives of our troops during the war. In return, we can pay it forward by saving the lives of monarch butterflies.  https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/

It’s In the Bag


An ad from a late 1943 Woman’s Day Magazine reads:
There are two major ways that you can help s-t-r-e-t-c-h the paper supply:

1. By taking goods from stores unwrapped whenever practicable, and by using your own containers when possible.

2. By salvaging all types of waste paper – newspapers, magazines, containers.

Imagine a time when plastic bags were not even an imagined shopping convenience. While it is popular to use cloth bags now, it’s not as widely practiced as it should be. Have you ever stopped to think why it’s necessary to use a bag at all when you purchase one or two items from a store? Why the bag?

I’ve embarrassed my hubby again at the grocery store check out line. I bring my own bags and I insist that nothing be pre-wrapped in plastic before putting it in my cloth bags. The baggers frequently argue with me about the safety of wrapping meat, cleaning supplies, and non-edible items before putting them in my bag.

Here’s where I start to embarrass my hubby: I ask the bagger if he/she notices that the cleaning products are already contained in plastic bottles. And, not only that, but they contain an aluminum-type safety seal under their plastic top. Why would I need to triple-protect them in a plastic bag for the two-mile trip home? Meat is packaged; yeah, I get it – sometimes meat packages get messy from the meat counter it is stored in at the store. So noted. But, everything I buy is wrapped in its own plastic and/or box. It still does not come in direct contact with another item that is not wrapped.

I buy bulk soap. It is often in a rack where you get to cut your own block from a large block. It’s part of the fun of buying it this way. When I encountered a particularly stubborn bagger who was extremely intent to wrap my soap in its own bag, I had to remind her that the soap was actually going to be used on my body. She still protested about it coming in contact with food I eat. Really?

I’m not saying it’s safe to eat soap (in fact, isn’t that a child-protective services violation these days). But, when it comes to waste, particularly plastic-bag waste, can’t we get over it and just put that brick of fine-smelling soap on top of the box of granola wrapped inside wax paper inside the cardboard box? I think so.

The Sugar Rules

Today, easily available and cheap, sugar, along with corn syrup, is the number one food additive in the United States. Made from sugar cane or sugar beets, it takes a number of forms: white or refined sugar; brown sugar, which is incompletely refined and retains some molasses that gives it color; confectioners’ sugar; and molasses itself, produced during refining. For white sugar, the refining process involves half a dozen steps, starting with the crushing of the cane. The resulting liquid is filtered to remove impurities and the color of the molasses that coated the sucrose crystals of the raw sugar; then the liquid is evaporated and dries into granulated white sugar. If you are avoiding “processed foods”, you must avoid any type of sugar. It doesn’t exist without processing.

 

Now and Then

Sugar provides quick energy, but its nutritional value is essentially nil. Yet, modern-day Americans consume, on average, about 150 pounds of it a year per person in food or drinks, the equivalent of about 32 teaspoons per day. 100 years ago, Americans consumed 4 pounds per person annually.

A visual: Consider today’s Sam’s Club option of a 25-pound bag of sugar, “convenient size”, and “great for baking and everyday use”. In 2017 consumption terms, we will buy six of these bags and store them in our big pantry. In 1917, my great-grandmother would stretch one of these Sam’s Club bags of sugar over five years!

 

Ohhh Yeeeaaahhh

The WWII ration rules allow my household one cup of sugar per person (including children), per week. At first it doesn’t sound too bad. The 25-pound of Sam’s Club sugar should get me and my hubby through six months of sugar rationing. But, to put it in terms of Kool-Aid making, one cup of sugar in the Kool-Aid mix would mean I am out for that week after one pitcher!  Sigh.

 

For my household, two cups of sugar per week means I don’t bake like I used to. If there’s sugar in the cupboard at the end of the month, I make a pie or a cake. But then we’re wiped out until the new month rolls around.

So What’s a Girl to do?

Under the tight constraints of the rations and workload, more and more home makers were turning to store-bought pastries and desserts. After all, commercial bakeries were not mandated to the same constraints of sugar rationing. At a time when “comfort food” and mom’s apple pie would arguably steady nerves and war emotions, commercialism was stepping in. Many established home makers of the time were well-aware of the intrusion from outside-the-home providers for their family. They didn’t like it. I can’t say I blame them. It was a literal bittersweet goodbye to a long-honored tradition of showing love through homemade food.

Kitchen Work Efficiency

Americans on the home front wanted to know what they could do at home to do their part in winning the war. The mantra, “Waste Nothing” was always the short answer. Waste nothing meant efficiency of every possible resource and thing, including time and human energy.

 

Efficient home making was the goal in homes across America during WWII. In a Woman’s Day magazine ad during winter of 1943, extensive testing is described that proves the Old Dutch Cleanser with Seisomtite is more economical and efficient than any other brand.

Advertisement for Old Dutch Cleanser published in 1943.

Advertisement for Old Dutch Cleanser published in 1943.

It ‘cleans your bathtub 34 more times than any other leading cleanser’, ‘your sink 69 more times’, ‘your favorite pan (which they describe as a 2-quart aluminum pan) 77 more times’, ‘your washbowl 97 more times’, and ‘your broiler pan 48 more times’.

 

The ad goes on to say ‘you should get one can for the bathroom, one for the kitchen and another for the laundry to save steps.’  This is not a bad idea! I have located a cleaning supply kit on each floor on my home — the upstairs, main level, and basement level. Having all that I need without pulling it out and lugging things up or down stairs is actually a huge time-saver and nearly half the battle when it comes to just starting the project of cleaning an area.

 

WWII had everyone thinking about highest possible efficiency. By the time the war ended and between 1946 and 1949, the University of Illinois School of Architecture Small Homes Council-Building Research studies introduced the world to their “work triangle” design study. The work triangle continues to serve as a standard of good kitchen design. The sink, stove, and refrigerator serve as the cornerstones of the triangle that make it possible to reduce wasted steps in time-motion studies originated for industrial applications in the late 1800’s studied by Frederick Winslow Taylor.

 

The kitchen work triangle principle:

  • No leg of the triangle should be less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet.
  • The sum of all three sides of the triangle should be between 13 feet and 26 feet.
  • Cabinets or other obstacles should not intersect any leg of the triangle by more than 12 inches.
  • If possible, there should be no major traffic flow through the triangle.
  • A full-height obstacle, such as a tall cabinet, should not come between any two points of the triangle.

 

Besides the work triangle itself, there are several rules of thumb to consider when planning a kitchen:

  • As measured between counter tops and cabinets or appliances, work aisles should be no less than 42 inches for one cook, or 48 inches for multiple cooks.
  • A sink should have a clear counter area of at least 24 inches on one side, and at least 18 inches on the other side.
  • A refrigerator should have a clear counter area of at least 15 inches on the handle side; or the same on either side of a side-by-side refrigerator; or the same area on a counter no more than 48 inches across from the refrigerator.
  • A stove or cook top should have a clear 15 inches area on one side, and at least 12 inches on the other side.
  • At least 36 inches of food preparation area should be located next to the sink.
  • In a seating area where no traffic passes behind the diner, allow 32 inches from the wall to the edge of the table or counter; if traffic passes behind the diner, allow 44 inches.
My kitchen.

My kitchen.

So, how efficiently designed is my kitchen?

  • No leg of the triangle should be less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet: I have two triangle legs that measure 44”, falling short by 4” to be efficiently designed.
  • The sum of all three sides of the triangle should be between 13 feet and 26 feet: My sum of legs is 158”, a mere two inches above the appropriate distance.
  • Cabinets or other obstacles should not intersect any leg of the triangle by more than 12 inches: No problems here.
  • If possible, there should be no major traffic flow through the triangle: No problems here.
  • A full-height obstacle, such as a tall cabinet, should not come between any two points of the triangle: No problems here.
  • As measured between counter tops and cabinets or appliances, work aisles should be no less than 42 inches for one cook, or 48 inches for multiple cooks: My aisles are 44”.
  • A sink should have a clear counter area of at least 24 inches on one side, and at least 18 inches on the other side: My sink has 18” exactly and 40” of counter space.
  • A refrigerator should have a clear counter area of at least 15 inches on the handle side; or the same on either side of a side-by-side refrigerator; or the same area on a counter no more than 48 inches across from the refrigerator: My counter on the handle side is 41”. My other counter, outside of the triangle is 36”. Being outside of the triangle, it hardly ever gets used! Now I know why.
  • A stove or cook top should have a clear 15 inches area on one side, and at least 12 inches on the other side: My counter tops on each side of the stove are 44” and 52”.
  • At least 36 inches of food preparation area should be located next to the sink: I have 39” of food prep area on the right side of the sink. Space inside the triangle is used often. The area outside of the triangle is not used very much at all and clutter accumulates there. 
  • In a seating area where no traffic passes behind the diner, allow 32 inches from the wall to the edge of the table or counter; if traffic passes behind the diner, allow 44 inches: Two counter top chairs are well within the 44” rule. When we moved into our home, there was an area set aside for a table between the counter and patio door area. It had a low-hanging lamp above the table area and was in the path of the pantry closet and patio door. No wonder it had to go! It felt extremely jarring to sit there. It’s math!! The math explains it all!
My kitchen's work triangle.

My kitchen’s work triangle.

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