American Pre-World War I Kitchenalia – Brief look at N. R. S. & Co. Groton NY
Ask anyone from the era when radio and television were the social media of the day, they would have eaten from or cooked on cast iron skillets, dutch ovens, waffle-makers, Turk heads muffins tins to name a few. Today, if you are lucky enough to get your hand on one of these pre-1910s pieces, you would mostly read Griswold, Lodge, BSR, Wapak, Oneida marks. The metal worked well for the itinerants, migrants, ranchers, homeowners who valued rugged quality, durability and appreciation of the mirror-like finish of a well-seasoned piece of cast iron.
In the Progressive Era money was flowing freely boosting businesses in their diversification of product lines. It is in the midst of this that a slightly lesser known brand or company that came to fore. Beautiful, simple and well thought out pieces of Kitchenalia combining both cast iron and steel made their way into American kitchens, dining rooms, restaurants and delicatessens.
It was an interesting “kitchen knife” with the markings. “N. R. S. & Co, Groton NY 93” displayed by The Cast Iron Guys that piqued my interest. Used to the abundant information related to cast iron cookware both in USA and overseas, N. R. S. & Co. was understatedly present.
Groton Borough, New York in the late 1800s was area as part of a thriving municipality in Tompkins. Famous for its steel and iron foundries which grew a whole generation and industries of bridge builders, carriage makers , metal sheet workers and supporting industries such as planners, surveyors and architects. At one point, there were more than 10 bridge building companies in the Groton area servicing the nearby states. This proved fertile ground for individuals and companies willing to further instil or incorporate steel and or cast iron items into the American households.
I believe such man was Nelson R Streeter, born in 1838 in Pitcher, Chenonga married to an Adelia Randolph also formerly of Chenonga. They had 4 children. Streeter was orphaned at the age of 8 along with his 10 other siblings. He was eventually apprenticed as a shoemaker. Success came and he was promoted to custom foreman of a shoe manufacturing plant.
Logic would dictate that his solid plant management skills, natural prowess or dexterity working with his hands, inventiveness, mechanically mind, problem solving skills and keen perception of needs unattainable to others; he was always going to be a man of interest. He was said to have more than 40 patents attributed to him alone in his lifetime. The count is rumoured to be as high as 75.
In 1869, he was courted along with his numerous patents to Groton by a local banker who had the foresight to build his bank coffers and the local industries. Together with a few Groton business leaders, they bankrolled a shoe factory. The predecessor of N. R. S. & Co., had its first office above the bank until the demise of that banker. According to Cornell University document, Groton and NY Vicinity – in 1870, Streeter sold his shoe business to Morris & Young and. in 1872; the latter sold to W. M. Peck. The following year or two Mr. Streeter withdrew from all connection with this shoe business for the purpose of concentrating his inventions. He later licenced the use of N. R. S. & Co. Groton NY.
We can only deduce that the abundance of raw materials in Groton and the progression and development of machineries made the way for the manufacture of smaller items, fastenings, bolts and etc. helped to move along his future kitchenalia production. Again, the Bull Run fatten the purses and
loosened the strings and the growing influx of migrants both fuelled and strained the state’s ability to feed its settlers from at a faster rate. New ethnic groups demand new and different kitchen tools.
As seen from his many and varied patents; including a trap, improvements on the hinge on tea or coffee pots, a vegetable or meat cutter, a fruit/vegetable and lard press, a smallgoods cutting machine, he was consciously or unconsciously slated to industrialise the food industry as a whole.
According to Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York – Including a History of Cornell University Edited by: John H. Selkreg D. Mason & Co., Publishers Syracuse, N. Y. 1894, “In 1876 he engaged in the manufacture of novelties under the firm name of N. R Streeter & Co., and though comparatively unknown outside this village, the firm is oneof the largest business houses in the county. The firm deals in useful and valuable novelties of all kinds, many of them being the invention of Mr. Streeter himself”. As of the writing of this article, no marketing materials for the company have been found.
Nelson’s ingenuity showcase a combination of steel and cast iron and sometimes even wood points to his deep understanding of each metal or material’s strong points. Steel for its ability to be shaped any old way and processed into desired “thinness” yet added strength. Cast iron for long lasting effect and wood for ease of use on hands.
Later pieces indicated the business and possibly the manufacturing plant were moved to Rochester NY. This is consistent with his selling off his rights to a Mr. Draper who mass produced out of Rochester. Streeter spent his retirement travelling around the country selling N. R. S. & Co. Groton and Rochester wares at exhibitions and shows.
Obviously, his novelties wasn’t enough to garner all his attention and time, he was also a poet who wrote about his drummer days in “Gems from an Old Drummer’s Grip”. He also served on the Board of Trustees, Board of Education and was a Past convenor of Knights of Pythias – Bryant Lodge. Death records showed a Mr. N. R. Streeter passed on in 1917 coinciding with onset or
outbreak of the Great Influenza Epidemic and that a Mrs. N. R. Streeter survived him for another two years. Husband and wife are buried in Groton Cemetery which Nelson help fund and administer before his demise.
Today, his vintage and antique inventions and items are highly sought after and quickly traded online, via auctions and I would like to think passed down to future generations. Prices vary from US$20 for the smaller pieces to an excess of US$5000 for larger pieces. Some of his wares are spread far around the world. A delicatessen meat slicer was recently found in Zambia and picked up by museum. So grab your own piece of Americana Kitchenalia while you still can.
Jonathan L of The Cast Iron Guys has a few tips on restoring these beautiful pieces. Electrolysis, lye bath, chemical rust remover, steel wool and fine grit sand paper to remove the rust and dirt. We do not recommend curing such items. Once restored, washing, drying then storing in a dry place after each use would do the trick.