Dawn of the American Century, 1900-1908
Seventy-five million people lived in forty-five states in 1900 when an editorialist described the national mood as “a sense of euphoria and self-satisfaction, a sure feeling that America is the envy of the world.” After the severe depression of the 1890s, the rich were getting richer as numerous corporate mergers were orchestrated by financiers, such as J. P. Morgan. Industrialists who sold their factories to the trusts moved to cities, such as Chicago and New York, where they would leave their mark on the social customs of the upper class. The nine million immigrants who arrived during this period also influenced the food customs of the country. While most menus still reflected a combination of English and French cuisines, there was a growing pride in the culinary diversity of the United States, something no other country could offer. German restaurants were at the height of popularity and adventurous urbanites began to venture out in search of exotic dining experiences. Chinese and Italian restaurateurs were particularly adept at modifying their cuisines to appeal to the dominant American palate. And the first vegetarian restaurants were established during this period. The decade would be remembered as “The Good Years,” a confident period when President Roosevelt started digging the Panama Canal and sent the Great White Fleet around the world.
J. Pierpont Morgan Residence.
New York City: February 17, 1900.
While this menu from the home of financier J. P. Morgan is entirely in French, many of the dishes are distinctly American, such as gumbo, shad, terrapin, and Virginia ham. The conversation at dinner most likely touched on nautical matters. The menu card, which bears a watercolor illustration of Morgan’s yacht Corsair, was saved by lawyer Lewis Cass Ledyard, who became the Commodore of the New York Yacht Club from 1901 to 1902.
Booker T. Washington. Honoree Banquet. New York City: January 21, 1901.
This menu comes from a dinner held a literary club honoring educator Booker T. Washington. The event was hosted by “The Outlook,” a weekly magazine that published his autobiographical essays that were now being published as a book, Up from Slavery (1901). The theme dishes tell parts of Washington’s life story. The consommé is named after Hampton College where he was educated, and the grapefruit after the Tuskegee Institute which he established in Alabama in 1881. The entrée called “chicken à la Kanawha log cabin” recalls his childhood home in West Virginia, where Washington and his family moved after emancipation. The ginger cakes served for dessert were symbolic of freedom. Washington recounted in his autobiography how, as a young slave, he watched two of his young mistresses and their visitors eat ginger cakes. “At that time those cakes seemed to me to be absolutely the most tempting and desirable things that I had ever seen,” he wrote, “and I then and there resolved that, if I ever got free, the height of my ambition would be reached if I could get to the point where I could secure and eat ginger cakes in the way that I saw those ladies doing.” Washington signed this menu on the cover.
Prince Henry of Prussia. Washington, D.C.: February 24, 1902.
President Theodore Roosevelt hosted a dinner for Prince Henry of Prussia, the first member of the German royal family to visit the United States. The printed menu is unusual in that they were seldom used at White House dinners between the Hayes (1877) and Eisenhower (1955) administrations. The menus for this occasion were provided courtesy of George Kessler, the colorful and wily wine importer who bribed officials so his brands would be the only wines served at the affair. This menu (and the following example) were made by Dempsey & Carroll, the high-society stationer in New York long favored by the Roosevelt family.
Prince Henry of Prussia. Washington, D.C.: February 24, 1902.
This monotone version may have been for guests not sitting at the head table. Wine importer George Kessler placed his business card in these menus to promote Moët & Chandon Champagne which was served at the presidential dinner and other key events during the royal visit. Prince Henry came to the United States to take delivery of a yacht built in New Jersey for his brother, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who reportedly became annoyed when he learned that his imperial schooner had been christened with a bottle of Kessler’s French Champagne instead of a German wine. After the launching ceremony, Prince Henry embarked on a goodwill tour during which he was enthusiastically fêted in American cities with large German populations.
Hong Far Low.
À la carte. Boston: ca. 1902.
The caption under the cover photo reads: “The first man in Boston who made chop suey in 1879.” Still, it was not until the early twentieth century that Chinese restaurateurs widely promoted modified Chinese cuisine as a way of attracting more customers to their establishments. Chop suey, which roughly translated to “odds and ends,” was the most successful adaptation. Chinese-American restaurants also began to offer a few Western foods, such as the stuffed olives, bread and butter, and chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry cake on this menu. Within a year or two, Hong Far Low added French fries to its bill of fare. By the 1920s, Chinese restaurateurs devoted fully half of their large menus to “American dishes.”
Vegetarian Society. New York City: January 27, 1904.
Seventh-day Adventists who preferred a plant-based diet began to establish vegetarian restaurants at the turn of the last century, such as The Laurel which opened in 1902. The restaurant closed at 3:00 PM on Friday and reopened on Sunday morning in accordance with Seventh-day Adventist practice to keep the Sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown Saturday. This banquet menu features cutlets made with Nuttolene, a canned, peanut-based meat substitute produced by the Sanitas Nut Food Company founded by health activist John Harvey Kellogg.
Flat Iron Restaurant.
À la carte. New York City: October 21, 1905.
When the 22-story Fuller Building opened in 1902, it was one of the tallest skyscrapers in New York. Popularly known as the Flatiron Building, the wedge-shaped skyscraper maintained a large basement restaurant that specialized in German dishes such as rinderbrust (beef brisket), broiled partridge, pig knuckles, bratwurst, and imported frankfurters.
À la carte. New York City: November 19, 1905.
In 1882, Hanover-born bartender and waiter August Lüchow (1856–1923) purchased Mühlbach’s beer hall on 14th Street at Irving Place and renamed it Lüchows. The German restaurant was widely regarded for its imported Würzburger and Pilsner beers and for perennial staples like bockwurst, sauerbraten, wiener schnitzel, and game dishes, which are among the many items on this 16½- x 11½-inch menu. In the 1930s, columnist O. O. McIntyre wrote: “In a changing world, nothing changes at Lüchows.” Nevertheless, the umlaut was dropped from over the u from 1917 to 1950 in response to anti-German sentiment that arose from the world wars. Lüchows closed in 1982 after operating at the same location for a century.
Mark Twain’s Birthday. Honoree Banquet. New York City: December 5, 1905.
Mark Twain’s seventieth birthday party at Delmonico’s was national news. The attendees were equally divided between men and women, including the 32-year-old writer Willa Cather. The bill of fare is illustrated with comic sketches by cartoonist Leon Barritt (1852-1938) depicting the guest of honor at the successive stages of his career. The dinner was hosted by George Harvey, the owner and editor of Harper’s Weekly which published a special supplement with photographs of the 170 guests sitting at tables.
Fixed Price. New York City: May 27, 1906.
In his diary, Ashcan School artist John Sloan recorded several visits to the Carlos on West 24th Street, which faced a drab building concealing architect Stanford White’s infamous love nest. The Carlos was the type of restaurant known as an “Italian table d’hôte,” offering an à la carte menu as well as an inexpensive set dinner with a pasta dish, such as the one shown here that cost sixty-five cents. The à la carte menu at the new Italian restaurants did not stray far from the standard American menu, typically offering Anglo roast meats, French-inspired entrées, and Italian-American dishes made with locally-available ingredients. It was a formula for success: by the twenty-first century there were 28,000 Italian restaurants (excluding pizzerias) in the United States.
American Bankers Association.
Broadside. Tyrolean Alps. St. Louis: October 19, 1906.
The broadside captures the fun of a free-spirited dining fad that began in the mid-1890s. The special dinner called a “beefsteak” followed a simple format: The participants sat on boxes or barrels in the dimly lit basement of a restaurant, where they drank beer and ate—with their hands—thick slices of steak dipped in butter. Since knives and forks were not allowed, the diners wore butcher’s aprons or used large napkins to protect their clothes.
Baltimore Yacht Club.
Hotel Mens’ Benefit Association. Crab Feast. Maryland: May 18, 1907.
This event was held on the shore of the Baltimore Yacht Club at a time when the Baltimore Yacht Club was located at Sledds Point, just outside the Inner Harbor. The crab-themed dinner includes crab soup, steamed crabs, deviled crabs, hot sausage rolls, and hot roast beef sandwiches. Beer was supplied by the nearby Globe Brewery. The menu was made by Dreka, a fine stationer in Philadelphia.
American Booksellers Association. Banquet. New York City: May 16, 1906.
The sixth annual banquet of the American Booksellers Association was held at the Aldine Association. The assemblage was described as “a notable gathering of those who toil in the making, producing, and vending of books.” The menu and program are bound into a novelty book entitled Toasts, compiled by William M. Rhoads, and illustrated by Clare Victor Dwiggins. The die-cut book, which featured soft leather covers in shape of beer stein, was published by the Penn Publishing Company, Philadelphia (1904/1905). The dinner featured Cape Cod oysters, cream of lettuce soup, planked shad, and roast capon.
Bibliophile Society of Boston. Annual Banquet. New York City: March 14, 1908.
When the stylish Knickerbocker Hotel opened on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway in October 1906, one of its bars was adorned with Maxfield Parrish’s iconic mural “Old King Cole and His Fiddlers Three” (later moved to the St. Regis Hotel); and its kitchen was under the direction of Chef Alexandra Gastaud, formerly at the Carlton Hotel in London. Tiffany & Co. made the small, leather-bound menus with marble boards for this annual dinner at which U.S. Senator Thomas F. Grady of New York acted as toastmaster. Among the guests were Grolierites Henry H. Harper (1905-1934) and Paul M. Herzog (1907-1925).
Chamber of Commerce. Banquet. New York City: November 19, 1908.
Noisettes de filet de boeuf, Orloff is called the pièce de résistance on this menu for 140th annual dinner of the Chamber of Commerce of New York. The cover depicts the Great White Fleet, then nearing the completion of its fourteen-month circumnavigation of the globe. The image of the powerful battleship armada conveys the spirit of a period of American history that some have called “The Age of Confidence.” The menu was made by Tiffany & Co.