Who Was Susan and Why Was She So Lazy?

The truth is, nobody really knows. 

It’s easy to imagine a woman named Susan inventing this revolutionary rotating table because she said “Enough with needing servants, enough with reaching long distances across the table, enough with digging around for your favorite spices. Let them come to you!” But that is unfortunately not the case. There seems to be no single inventor or solitary namesake to credit for this wonderful invention. 

The term “Lazy Susan” made its first written appearance in a Vanity Fair Magazine advertisement in 1917. It was a mahogany tray that revolved on ball bearings and was described as “the cleverest waitress in the world, at your service!” Historians believe that the origins of the Lazy Susan go as far back as the 18th century. 

One of the most popular theories is that Thomas Jefferson invented the device for his daughter Susan who often complained about how her food was cold because she was always served last at the dinner table. Unfortunately, Thomas never had a daughter named Susan so this cannot be confirmed. Others believe that Thomas Edison’s turntable that he created for his phonograph eventually evolved into the Lazy Susan. 

It’s possible that the name originated from “Susan” being  a generic term popularized in the 18th century by employers referencing their female servants. According to Markus Krajewski, a professor of media history at University Basel, “Laziness was a common complaint against servants at the time.” It’s hard to empathize with a bunch of rich people from the 18th century about their “lazy” servants, but things were definitely different back then. 

Some believe that tiered rolling carts (known as Etageres or Dumbwaiters) eventually evolved into tiered rounded tables that spun around to make drinks and snacks easily accessible to guests. Both of these inventions replaced a lot of the work that servants were expected to do.

A woman out of Missouri named Elizabeth Howell filed a patent in 1891 for her  “Self Waiting Table” and it was  one of the first instances of a rotating table existing atop another surface. Later in 1915 a Malaysian doctor named Wu Lien-Teh wrote about similar ideas but leaned more in the direction of providing a sanitary dining experience. He envisioned a rotating tray at a table where every dish had a special spoon to prevent contamination. It is unknown if this idea was picked up in China or Southeast Asia. 

Fast forward to the 1950’s when Chinese restaurants were flourishing in the US.  George Hall, a  friend of Johnny Kan who opened a cantonese style restaurant in 1953, had trained as an engineer and often tinkered around in the basement. He put together a revolving table top that became a pivotal element of Kan’s new banquet room. This absolutely blew up and it became standard fare in the 1960’s. In the decades that followed, people would start to incorrectly proclaim that the Lazy Susan was traditional in Chinese culture stemming back to the 13th century. A revolving table did exist but its purpose was to set out blocks of characters to be used in printing. 

It wasn’t until around the 1940’s that it occurred to kitchen cabinet makers that incorporating the Lazy Susan into that difficult corner cabinet would solve so many problems. It not only allowed that tricky space to be utilized, it also provided accessibility and maximized the storage space. Once the Lazy Susan was introduced to the world of cabinetry, there was no turning back. 

The Lazy Susan set a new precedent for utilizing cabinet space and paved the way for all of the innovative storage solutions we see today. Despite not much being changed in the overall construction of the Lazy Susan since its inception, it is still one of our most popular requested kitchen storage solutions. 

The Window Store is proud to offer a wide variety of storage solutions that make every day life easier for homeowners. If you’d like to learn more about our storage solutions, download our Kitchen Refacing Guide or use our handy contact form and one of our Kitchen Refacing specialists will be happy to walk you through all of our options. 

home with windows 2 after
home with windows 2 after

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