Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The History of Diners in New Jersey

The History of Diners in New Jersey

Diners are familiar beacons that have brightened New Jersey’s highways and main streets for more than hundred years, beginning as horse-drawn “lunch wagons” and evolving into classic, stainless-steel architectural gems. More than just places to eat, diners have become part of the Garden State’s culture, commerce, myth, romance, community life, and “Jersey” attitude. They are the ultimate egalitarian gathering places, opening their doors to truck drivers, college students, business executives, construction workers, and tourists 24 hours a day.

The Bendix Diner, in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ on northbound Route 17 (near the intersection with Route 46).
New Jersey indeed is the “diner capital of the world.” New Jersey author and historian Michael C. Gabriele’s book, The History of Diners in New Jersey, published by The History Press in 2013, documents this colorful history, assembling people, events, places, dates, facts, and figures into a cohesive narrative that traces the state’s beloved diner history.

The book is illustrated with over 75 photos (many taken by the author), along with scans of vintage postcards, rare photo prints, and technical illustrations. It also features a special eight-page color insert of images. Developed through extensive research, the book offers a portal into the early days of lunch wagons and diners, providing detailed information, first-hand interviews, context, and perspective.

Along with tales of noteworthy diners of the past and present, the book pays tribute to the independent manufacturing companies that were located in New Jersey. The Garden State was "the factory" that built hundreds of diners during the 20th century—the streamlined, stainless steel structures that are admired around the world and recognized as iconic examples of American industrial design. Today the state’s diner manufacturing sector is virtually extinct; a forgotten chapter of New Jersey’s history.

The Crossroads Diner near the intersection of Routes 46 and 519, in Belvidere, NJ.
According to Gabriele’s research, Hudson County is the birthplace of New Jersey’s diner business. The Garden State’s diner history began in July 1912 when a Jersey City entrepreneur named Michael J. Griffin purchased two lunch wagons (the precursors of today’s modern diners) from Jerry O’Mahony, a lunch wagon builder based in Bayonne. At the time, there were other lunch wagon manufacturers outside of New Jersey and other individuals operating lunch wagons throughout state, but the Griffin/O’Mahony transaction marks the start of the Garden State’s own diner history as it documents the first lunch wagon built and bought by Jersey guys.

Here are some great vintage postcard images of diners from across New Jersey.

Boulevard Diner, 41st and Crescent Boulevard, Camden, NJ circa 1940s.
Egg Platter Diner, Paterson, NJ, circa 1980s.
Maple Diner, Elizabeth, NJ circa 1940s.
Olga's Diner, Marlton, NJ circa 1960s.
The Reo Diner, Woodbridge, NJ circa 1950s.
Tops Diner, Mountainside, NJ circa 1940s.
Trent Diner, east of Trenton, NJ on Route 1 circa 1940s.
About the Author
This is Gabriele’s second book with The History Press. The first, The Golden Age of Bicycle Racing in New Jersey, was published in 2011. A lifelong New Jersey resident, Gabriele has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is a 1975 graduate of Montclair State University; a member of the executive board of the Nutley Historical Society; and serves on the advisory board of the Clifton Arts Center. During the last 12 months Gabriele has been invited to speak at libraries, historical societies, book store and civic organizations throughout the state, presenting information on diner history. You can purchase a copy of The History of Diners in New Jersey here.

Do you enjoy the articles and features that The History Girl produces each week? 
If so, consider a donation to keep the movement going!


would love to see this made into a documentary

Post a Comment

Thanks for the comments!