Object Timeline

1932

  • Work on this object began.

1942

  • Work on this object ended.

2016

2018

  • We acquired this object.

2019

  • You found it!

Top-O-Stove Potato Baker, ca. 1937

This is a Potato baker. It is dated ca. 1937 and we acquired it in 2018. Its medium is aluminum. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

Raymond Barton’s “Top-o-Stove” potato baker is a streamlined illustration of aluminum’s increasing popularity in domestic design and the proliferation of single-purpose kitchen tools in America in the 1930s. The appliance’s shape references the vegetable it was designed to cook, but also bears a resemblance to the Zeppelin, a design motif that found its way into myriad 1930s industrial designs as an expression of the period’s preoccupation with speed, transportation, and new technology. The object was intended to function on gas or electric stovetops as well as over open fires; Barton’s patent reveals that he had campers in mind when designing the piece. The toy-like contraption boasts a functional handle that, when raised, opens the device to reveal a long pin to hold a pre-seasoned potato, and when lowered, snaps the device shut to maintain an insulated environment and ensure quick, even cooking. The highly conductive aluminum potato baker’s internal skewer suspended the vegetable in space, surrounding it with, but not exposing it directly to concentrated heat in order to prevent scorching.
Aluminum was discovered in the 1840s, but remained an expensive novelty material until the 1880s. As domestic service declined and ideas of hygiene, cleanliness, and scientific management were introduced to the kitchen, aluminum became an increasingly important and inexpensive metal. By 1918, it had become part of everyday domestic life not only because of its utility but also because the industry actively sought new ways of promoting and selling aluminum goods. In the 1930s, the Great Depression spurred unprecedented competition among manufacturers and, consequently, a great deal of innovation in product design. Aluminum became a favorite material of industrial designers, many of whom had backgrounds in advertising, marketing, and sales; they combined the language of European modernism with forms inspired by speed and transportation. The resulting “streamlined” aesthetic, the marriage of function and form, came to characterize many industrial designs from this period. Additionally, this era saw the rise of single-purpose kitchen tools, designed to minimize labor and maximize efficiency. Such tools speak both to an innovative approach to domestic design and increasing efforts to diversify products and foster consumption in the 1930s. Due to its inexpensive material of aluminum and the affordablity of the potato that it served, this object at once shows the impact of the Depression on kitchen design and eating habits.

It is credited Gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler.

Its dimensions are

H x W x D: 10.2 × 18.3 × 10.3 cm (4 in. × 7 3/16 in. × 4 1/16 in.)

Cite this object as

Top-O-Stove Potato Baker, ca. 1937; aluminum; H x W x D: 10.2 × 18.3 × 10.3 cm (4 in. × 7 3/16 in. × 4 1/16 in.); Gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler; 2018-29-1

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/823347757/ |title=Top-O-Stove Potato Baker, ca. 1937 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=24 March 2019 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>