Diners Through the Decades: 1920s

The earliest diners were lunch carts pulled by horses that stayed open 24-hours to accommodate factory workers coming off shifts. Walter Scott began the first lunch cart/wagon service in Providence, Rhode Island in 1872. Patrick J. Tierney followed in 1895, Worcester Lunch Car Company in 1906, Jerry O’Mahony in 1917, Silk City in 1926, and Kullman Dining Car Company in 1927. By the end of the decade, most of the major diner manufacturers were established.

These restaurants are called diners because they resembled railroad dining cars. Many were manufactured with wheels and pulled to their locations on railroads, since railroads connected the nation’s factories before the automobile took off. 1920s diners tended to be small and made of wood. Only a few still exist.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Casey’s Diner, at 36 South Avenue in Natick, Massachusetts, is a rare 1922 Worcester model. Like many early diner owners, Fred Casey began as a food cart salesman. He purchased this ten-stool diner in 1927 and originally located it on Washington Street. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

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The Evolution of American Diners

Diners are quintessentially American. They represent affordable dining for the working class, mobility, entrepreneurship, and mass production. Diners have evolved over the decades to accommodate our trends and tastes, from tableside juke boxes to Greek-American cuisine.

The earliest diners were lunch carts pulled by horses. Entrepreneurs parked them outside factories to feed hungry workers as they came on and off shift. Many stayed open 24-hours to accommodate all shifts. Walter Scott began the first lunch cart/wagon service in Providence, Rhode Island in 1872.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Casey’s Diner, at 36 South Avenue in Natick, Massachusetts, is a rare 1922 Worcester model and possibly the oldest continually operating diner in the United States. Like many early diner owners, Fred Casey began as a food cart salesman. He purchased this ten-stool diner in 1927 and originally located it on Washington Street. It moved to its current location in 1977. Diners in the 1920s were primarily made of wood.

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29 Diner in Fairfax, Virginia

The 29 Diner, at 10536 Fairfax Blvd in Fairfax, Virginia, is a 1947 Mountain View, and its original owners were D.T. “Bill” and Elvira “Curly” Glascock. It was known as the Tastee 29 Diner in 1992 when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. A former waitress and her husband, Ginger and Fredy Guevara, purchased the diner in the 1990s and restored its original name. They owned it until 2014, when it was bought by John Wood. Despite advertising “24 hour” service, its hours vary throughout the week. You gotta try their BBQ!

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Lake Effect Diner in Buffalo, New York

Lake Effect Diner, at 3165 Main Street in Buffalo, New York, is a 1955 Mountain View (model #446). Tucker and Erin Curtin brought the classic stainless steel diner from Wayne, Pennsylvania to Western New York in 2002 and carefully restored it to its former glory. It was originally called the Main Line Grille and later the Wayne Diner. Guy Fieri featured the diner in Season 7 of his Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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Triangle Diner in Winchester, Virginia

Triangle Diner, at 27 W. Gerrard Street in Winchester, Virginia, is a 1948 O’Mahony with a stainless steel exterior and a storied history. Though currently closed, the Triangle Diner employed future country music star Patsy Cline in the early 1950s. Unlike many diners, it has sat at the same intersection since it opened. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

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Yankee Clipper Diner in Beacon, New York

Yankee Clipper Diner, at 397 Main Street in Beacon, New York, is a 1998 Paramount model named after the Pan American B-314 Yankee Clipper airplane that flew mail across the mid-Atlantic beginning in 1939. The original diner was an O’Mahony that opened in 1946 and was a location in the film Nobody’s Fool (1994) starring Paul Newman. It has been owned and operated since 2003 by two sisters and their husbands, Nikos and Katina Pertesis and Petros and Tonia Petsas. Their Yankee French Toast with strawberry cream cheese is so good.

Look for a new diner every Tuesday in 2019! Click to expand photos.

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The Birdseye Diner in Castleton, Vermont

The Birdseye Diner, at 590 Main Street in Castleton, Vermont, is a 1946 Silk City. It originally had a wooden exterior, but after 18 years was refitted with stainless steel and chrome. It has been known by various names, including The Campus Diner, Jim’s, and T.J.’s. John and Pam Rehlen renovated it in 1995.

An old advertisement for Silk City diners hangs on the wall; it promises “big profits, modest investment,” and “no experience needed,” “a depression proof business.” Simply find a space, hook it up to utilities, and watch the money roll in. What an American idea!

Look for a new diner every Tuesday in 2019! Click to expand photos.

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