Fast food: one-arm joints

The wooden one-arm chair was a characteristic feature of the “quick lunch” type of eating place which became the popular choice for businessmen around the turn of the last century. The chairs were unattractive and uncomfortable as the cartoon below depicts. But considering that prior to their introduction patrons seeking a speedy lunch often ate while standing at a counter, they offered relative luxury. Solitary seating made sense in a café where businesspeople usually came in alone and spent little more than 10 or 15 minutes at their meal before rushing back to the office or store. (Later, in fact, more attractive one-arm chairs were used in Lord & Taylor Bird Cage restaurants.)

As is true of the fast food restaurants of today, one function of uncomfortable seats in the quick lunch eatery was to discourage lingering. These restaurants were usually shoe-horned into tight quarters in high-traffic, high-rent business centers, so it was paramount that each chair turned customers rapidly. The one-arm chair was patented by a Vermonter named James Whitcomb who designed fixtures for the Baltimore Dairy Lunch and also manufactured portable typewriters.

The core cuisine of the one-arms, and quick lunches in general, consisted of coffee and pie, supplemented by sandwiches and doughnuts. Some of the big one-arm concerns were the Chicago-based companies of John R. Thompson and Charles Weeghman, and the Baltimore Lunch and the Waldorf System, both of which originated in Springfield MA. The companies eventually broadened their menus to include hot dishes, supplying their locations in each city from central commissaries. Though the chains kept prices low, Waldorf prided itself on grating lemons for lemon pies and avoiding manufactured pie fillings, powered milk, dried eggs and other cost-cutting ingredients developed for the military in World War I and widely used by chains in the 1920s.

Under the intense competition of the late 1920s and the depression, the Lunches replaced their one-arm chairs with tables and chairs and abandoned their utilitarian decor in favor of more colorful interiors in hopes of attracting more women.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

14 Comments

Filed under restaurants

14 responses to “Fast food: one-arm joints

  1. Pingback: Poro Tea Room « The Restaurant Project

  2. N Larson

    I was going through some silverware of my wife’s grandmother and found a large serving spoon from Globe Dairy Lunch. She had lived in the Los Angeles area. It was quite tarnished but cleaned up with a little polish.

  3. Due to busy work schedules, most people would just prefer to eat fastfoods ~

  4. Carroll Krois

    My mother Agnes Carroll Krois, when particularly frustrated with us kids – and so many of our friends – all wanting something different for lunch, would stand in the middle of our kitchen in Port Chester, NY saying “This is not Sadie’s one-armed lunch!” Needless to say I thought she was talking about a cook named Sadie.
    She was a business woman in Boston in the 30′s & DC in the 30′s and 40′s. Now I’m wondering which one-armed lunchrooms she frequented.

  5. shsilver

    victualling wrote: “Albert Weeghman (not sure what their relationship was).” Albert and Charles were brothers.

  6. Brian Bernardoni

    I am a collector of his restaurant ware. What a great find!

  7. Bob — It’s almost certainly authentic. Dairy lunchroom chains of the early 20th century typically developed their own logo and often used it on dishes. I’m not certain when Weeghman’s was founded, by Charles Weeghman, but it was probably in the late 19th century. He lost the restaurants and the Cubs in 1920 after having a rough time with both enterprises during WWI. He sold the baseball club to William Wrigley Jr., while the restaurants were taken over by new management which included Albert Weeghman (not sure what their relationship was). In 1923 there were 11 dairy lunches, all in Chicago. — Jan Whitaker

  8. Bob Gholston

    I collect restaurant china, which consists mainly of military themed pieces, but I came across a small berry bowl a couple of years ago. I believe it to be from one of Charles Weeghman’s eateries in the early 1900′s. I have never seen another piece, but this one has the right era backstamp, and is clearly top-marked Chas. Weeghman, in script, with some period appropriate decoration, all transfer. That led me to find out about his dabbling in baseball, and it led me to attempt to discover if this piece that I have is indeed from one of his restaurants. As of now, I have no reason to think that it is not. Does anyone know of any other items from his dining establishments?

  9. Kathleen Lathom

    I’m a collector of restaurant china and own some examples of the mentioned restaurants. Like Vienna Model Bakery and Globe Dairy Lunch. Wish there was more history on these subjects. Nice job. K

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s