Horn & Hardart

Horn & Hardart

Horn & Hardart is a company that came to prominence as the proprietor of the first automat in New York City.

German-born Frank Hardart and Philadelphia's Joseph Horn opened their first restaurant together in Philadelphia on December 22, 1888. The vest-pocket (11 x 17 feet) lunchroom at 39 South Thirteenth Street had no tables, only a counter with 15 stools. By introducing Philadelphia to New Orleans-style French-drip coffee, which Hardart promoted as their "gilt-edge" brew, they made their tiny luncheonette a local attraction. Word of the coffee spread, and the business flourished. They incorporated as the Horn & Hardart Baking Company in 1898. [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=hardart&GSfn=frank&GSmn=+&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=10481130&/ Find a Grave: Frank Hardart Sr.] ]

Automatic food service

Horn and Hardart launched their first Automat in Philadelphia on June 12, 1902, borrowing the concept of automatic food service from a successful German establishment, Berlin's Quisiana Automat. The first New York Automat opened in Times Square July 2, 1912. Later that week, another opened at Broadway and East 14th Street, near Union Square. These cafeterias featured prepared foods behind small glass windows and coin-operated slots, beginning with buns, beans, fish cakes and coffee. Eventually, they served lunch and dinner entrees, such as beef stew and Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes. It developed into a self-service chain of restaurants that flourished in the city for nearly a century.

Carolyn Hughes Crowley describes the appeal of the Automats::The Automats immediately captured America’s interest and imagination. They were the restaurant industry’s first attempt at emulating the assembly line. Customers put together their own meals in a continuous, moving operation. Hot food was always hot—and savory. Automats, moreover, always sought to offer the widest possible variety of culinary choices. In huge rectangular halls filled with shiny, lacquered tables, women with rubber tips on their fingers—"nickel throwers," as they became known—in glass booths gave customers the five-cent pieces required to operate the food machines in exchange for larger coins and paper money. Customers scooped up their nickels, then slipped them into slots in the Automats and turned the chrome-plated knobs with their porcelain centers. In a few seconds the compartment next to the slot revolved into place to present the desired cold food to the customer through a small glass door that opened and closed. Diners picked up hot foods at buffet-style steam tables. The word "automat" comes from the Greek automatos, meaning "self-acting." But Automats weren’t truly automatic. They were heavily staffed. As a customer removed a compartment’s contents, a behind-the-machine human quickly slipped another sandwich, salad, piece of pie or coffee cake into the vacated chamber. Customers found many advantages in this style of dining. They could see the food before buying it. They thought the glass-fronted compartments and shiny fittings were sanitary, a comforting reassurance after the food contamination scares of the time. Patrons were discouraged from tipping. Nor did any cash register reveal the cost of a meal for all to see; the coin slots kept thrifty customers’ dining expenditures discreetly hidden. [ [http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/object_aug01.html Crowley, Carolyn Hughes. "Meet Me at the Automat," "Smithsonian Magazine", August 2001.] ]

Rise and decline

In 1924, Horn & Hardart opened retail stores to sell prepackaged automat favorites. Using the ad slogan "Less Work for Mother," the company popularized the notion of easily served "take-out" food as an equivalent to "home-cooked" meals. [ [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=horn&GSfn=joseph+&GSmn=v&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=7467717&/ Find A Grave: Joseph V. Horn] ]

The Horn & Hardart Automats were particularly popular during the Depression era when their macaroni and cheese, baked beans and creamed spinach were staple offerings.

During the 1940s and the 1950s, more than 50 New York Horn & Hardart restaurants served 350,000 customers a day. The chain remained popular into the 1960s with automats, sit-down waitress service restaurants, cafeterias and bakery shops. During the late 1960s, consultants attempted to focus attention on automats with interior decoration relevant to surrounding neighborhoods; thus, the Automat on 14th Street was decorated with psychedelic posters. The eateries closed with the rise of fast-food restaurants. The last New York Horn & Hardart Automat (on the southeast corner of 42nd Street and Third Avenue) closed in April 1991.

Augustin Hardart was the last of three generations to manage the Automats, and his daughter, Marianne Hardart, collaborated with columnist Lorraine B. Daily to document the family history in "The Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart's Masterpiece" (Clarkson Potter, 2002). [http://www.theautomat.net/reviews.htm Hardart, Marianne and Lorraine B. Daily "The Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart's Masterpiece". Clarkson Potter, 2002.] ]


Horn & Hardart attempted to revive the automat concept with their Dine-O-Mat restaurant in New York. It closed in 1989 after less than two years in operation. In a recent revival, the Horn & Hardart name was used for a now defunct chain of coffee shops in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Horn & Hardart Coffee Co. shuttered its last coffee shop in 2005.

Bamn!, a modern take on the current automats used in the Netherlands, is located in New York's East Village at 37 St. Mark's Place between 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue.

Museums, music and mentions

"Automat" (1927) is a painting by Edward Hopper which depicts a lone woman in an empty Automat at night. There are no signs of activity on the street outside. This adds to the sense of loneliness and has caused the painting to be associated with the concept of urban alienation. One critic observed that "the woman's eyes are downcast and her thoughts turned inward." [Iversen, Margaret: "Edward Hopper." Tate Publishing, 2004, p. 57.] Another critic has described her as "gazing at her coffee cup as if it were the last thing in the world she could hold on to." [Schmied, Wieland: "Edward Hopper: Portraits of America." Translated by John William Gabriel. Munich: Prestel, 1999, p. 76.] In 1995, "Time" magazine used "Automat" as the cover image for a story about stress and depression in the 20th century. ["Time" magazine, August 28, 1995]

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has an ornate 35-foot Automat section, complete with mirrors, marble and marquetry, from Philadelphia’s 1902 Horn & Hardart. In November 2002, the Museum of the City of New York held a special Automat centennial exhibition featuring photographs, artifacts, original furniture, china and vending machine panels.

"Colored Spade" from the Broadway musical "Hair" mentions Horn & Hardart in its lyrics. "Concerto for Horn and Hardart" is a classical music parody written by Peter Schickele, one of many which he attributes to the fictional composer P.D.Q. Bach. In 1965, for the occasion of its premier performance in Carnegie Hall, a special musical instrument, the "Hardart," was created by the eminent harpsichord builder Wolfgang Zuckermann. It was a plucking keyboard instrument that offered up hot coffee on command from a movable panel.

An Automat of the future was featured in the science fiction musical "Just Imagine" (1930), and a character in the 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally..." says he first met his wife at an Automat. Horn & Hardart is mentioned in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple".
Ruth Reichl's novel "Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table" (1998) briefly discusses a sale on deli foods at Horn & Hardart's.


Listen to

* [http://soundportraits.org/on-air/last_day_at_the_automat/ NPR Sound Portrait: "Last Day at the Automat": Audio documentary with David Isay at the Automat on April 9. 1991]

External links

* [http://www.theautomat.net/ Tribute site by Lorraine B. Diehl and Marianne Hardart, the great-granddaughter of Frank Hardart]
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=horn&GSfn=joseph+&GSmn=v&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=7467717&/ Biography of Joseph V. Horn]
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=hardart&GSfn=frank&GSmn=+&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=10481130&/ Biography of Frank Hardart, Sr.]
* [http://www.theautomat.com/ The Automat]

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