diner

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

diner

diner, restaurant resembling the railroad dining car. In the mid-19th cent., the first dining cars that appeared on trains were nothing more than an empty car with a fastened-down table. George M. Pullman, who had begun producing sleeping cars in 1858, soon began designing a dining car. By 1868, Pullman had designed the luxuriously and meticulously appointed "club car." Roadside diners, however, evolved from horse-drawn lunch wagons, whose origins date to the 1870s. Such wagons became more elaborate in the late 19th cent., and many became roadside fixtures on empty lots. Although some railroad dining cars were sold and turned into roadside restaurants, most roadside diners were factory-built restaurants that were assembled on their permanent site. Instead of the tables and white tablecloths of the early dining cars, they commonly had booths along one wall and a long counter down the other. In the 1920s and 30s, the diners that served America's growing highway system became a symbol of automobile travel. Diners from that era were sometimes art deco in design, sleek and streamlined.

See study by R. J. S. Gutman (1993).

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