Gilbreth, Frank B. Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Belles on Their Toes
United States: 1950
Mother planned, on paper, an efficiency-type kitchenette of the kind used today in a good many apartments. Under her arrangement, a person could mix a cake, put it in the oven, and do the dishes, without taking more than a couple of dozen steps. On the strength of her blueprints, she landed a contract with a New York electric concern. The fee was one Dad wouldn’t have considered. But it was the first job Mother had got on her own, and she was proud of it.
Someone in the electric company told the newspapers about the contract. A woman engineer with eleven children was considered good copy, and in 1924 the idea of a scientifically planned kitchen was news. The company arranged a press conference for Mother in New York. The resulting stories, besides telling of Mother’s plans, managed to give the impression that our kitchen in Montclair also was a model of efficiency.
Actually, the exact opposite was true. Our kitchen, the one Tom used, was a model of inefficiency. Not that there was a handpump over the sink or a spit to roast fowls on, but it was almost that bad. Our house had been built when the stress was on spaciousness, and the original owner had planned the kitchen to accommodate three or four servants. When Tom baked a cake, or baked what he said was a cake, he had to walk about half a mile. The distance from the sink, which was at a back-breaking level, to the old-fashioned gas stove was a good twenty feet. The food was kept in a pantry twenty feet from the stove and forty from the sink. And the dishes were in a butler’s pantry, about the same distance away but in the opposite direction.
The refrigerator was in an alcove by itself. To get to it, you had to detour around a stand holding the bird cage; around a table holding Tom’s tools, a plumber’s friend, western story magazines, and back copies of The Newark Star-Eagle; and usually around Mr. Chairman, or Fourteen, or both. But on the strength of the write-ups about the contract, a newsreel man phoned Mother and said he’d like to bring a crew to Montclair to photograph her in her efficiency kitchen. “I’d love to have you,” Mother told him, “but you see we haven’t set up the efficiency kitchen there at the house.”
“I don’t believe that would be exactly suitable,” Mother gulped.