DIY Restaurant Menu Printing in 1914

Paper place mat from the Tirolerland Inn, Jay, NY, 1953.

Hiya, foodie friends. It’s me, Andrew, here with another one of my food archaeology posts. Last fall we visited the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. We were very interested to see their temporary exhibit, “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions”. There were lots of cool objects in the collection, especially for a graphic designer like myself. The 1950s paper place mat from the Tirolerland Inn was pretty neat (check out that bear chasing the guy up the tree!). But my absolute favorite thing was a tabletop menu printer from 1915. In the days before Microsoft Word and a bazillion font choices, the staff of a turn-of-the-century kitchen could print custom menus on their restaurant’s letterhead.

Menu_Printer

Excel tabletop menu printer, 1914.

Here’s the text from the display:

Menu Printer
From the Delmarsh Inn, Inlet, NY
ca. 1914
70.31.1
Gift of James Meneilly, Jr.

It was important for historic Adirondack eating establishments to provide new offerings as often as possible to remain competitive. This menu printer allowed chefs to “keep the breakfast, dinner and supper cards set up and make only the necessary changes from day to day.” If chefs could not find the exact words necessary for a menu, they could order more at 7.5 cents per word from the maker of the menu printer, the Excel Manufacturing Company.

In this word drawer you can see interesting menu items like “Tongue, Tripe, Truffle, Vanilla sauce, Vermicelli, Weakfish, Weiner, with Barley,” etc. (This was behind glass, so I apologize for the blurry photo)
Steamboat ticket, 1896.

In the late 19th and early 20th century the Adirondack Mountains were a very popular vacation spot. Well-to-do residents of New York City would ride trains and steamboats north to beat the summer heat. Many owned their own mansion-size cabins—the Great Camps—while others stayed in the region’s many hotels. If you have little girls in your family, you may be familiar with the American Girl novel, Samantha Saves the Day in which Samantha’s family goes on such a vacation to an Adirondack lake (albeit a fictitious one).

A turn-of-the-century postcard of Eight Lake (just outside town at Inlet, NY)

According to the Town of Inlet’s official website the Delmarsh Inn (owned by the Delmarsh family) was built in 1921. So, I’m guessing the year of 1914 given on the museum display card is the printing press’ production date. I wonder if the inn purchased it second-hand. Turn-of-the-century visitors from the city would have been used to full-color lithograph restaurant menus, but I’m sure they could forgive the Delmarsh’s simply printed menu. They were on a rustic Adirondack getaway, after all.

Cheers, Andrew

P.S. If you are interested in the design history of American menus, then check outMenu Design In America, by Heimann, Heller, and Mariani. It’s a massive coffee table style book full of gorgeous photos of menus from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century.

Zoe and Grandpa Jeff sitting in one of the museum’s oversized Adirondack chairs, October, 2012.

Comments

  1. says

    We love the museum. We visit any time we’re traveling through the area. That’s a cool display. It’s really interesting to take a look back and see how things were done before everything went high tech. We have photos of us in that chair, too. ;-)

    Shirley

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