Automats: Giving Lunch the Impersonal Touch

A machine that could serve milk steaming hot or ice-cold, that never spilled a drop and never needed cleaning – such was the dream of German school administrators who were after an innovative way of meeting their pupils’ nutritional needs. In 1903 that dream became reality with the introduction into schools throughout Berlin of the Milch-Automat, a technological wonder that, as revealed in an issue of The Modern Review, subtracted the human element from the dairy-delivery equation. A coin dropped into the machine sent “a waterproof paper cup … down in an opening” to catch a jet of the “very finest quality milk” with ease and exactness. And, true to its promise, the Milch-Automat proved an exceedingly clean machine, flushing itself every so often by “a mechanical process” that kept it “scientifically sanitary.”

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New York Luncheonettes: No-Frills Dining in the Gilded Age

One problem confronting early twentieth-century New Yorkers was where to find a flea dip to go with a proper dish of ground beef. The Canine Luncheonette, one of the Gilded Age’s more charming innovations, supplied the remedy. To those four-legged companions of women who would disappear into the shops on Fifth Avenue the establishment offered comfort and refection. There pooches could dine in grand style and could even steal a nap. (Longer reposes, however, had to take place down the street at the doggie hotel, whose appurtenances naturally included a savory bone for gnawing.)

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Ham Sandwiches for Homebound Hilarity

In his 1912 essay “The Wildness of Domesticity” G.K. Chesterton lauds the humble home as “the only place of liberty.” “It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements, suddenly make an experiment or indulge in a whim,” he writes.

For its part, the wider world suffers neither experiment nor whim gladly. Indeed, everywhere else a man ventures “he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter.” In his own home, on the other hand, he “can eat his meals on the floor … if he likes.”

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