Programs & Events

Tuesday, April 24 at 7:00 p.m. at the Hubbard Room, Russell Library,
123 Broad St. Middletown, CT 

The Architecture of the American Diner: From Wagon-Wheels to Stainless Steel, a talk by Christopher Dobbs, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Museum

Zips.Eat SignWith its stainless-steel siding, streamlined exterior, and colorful neon
signage, the classic roadside diner is as quintessentially American as the apple pie
on its menu. Whether you sit on a stool at the counter or lounge in one of the vinyl-
upholstered booths, you can’t help but feel nostalgic for a simpler time, a sense of
optimism, or the joy of the open road. But how did these iconic restaurants come to
look like they do?

In a talk sponsored by the Middlesex County Historical Society, the
Connecticut River Museum’s executive director Christopher Dobbs will tell the story
of the American diner’s form and function. His presentation, “The Architecture of
the American Diner: From Wagon-Wheels to Stainless Steel” will take place at 7:00
p.m., on Tuesday, April 24 in the Hubbard Room at Russell Library, 123 Broad
Street, Middletown, Conn. The talk is free and everyone is welcome to drop in and
take a seat.

Dobbs says scholars and greasy-spoon aficionados point out four essential
characteristics that differentiate an authentic diner from other inexpensive eateries.
First, the diner’s structure is usually prefabricated and hauled to the site. Second,
the diner must have a counter and stools. Third, it must offer “home cooking” at
reasonable prices. And lastly, the cooking should take place behind the counter.

A fifth defining element that has been neglected has been identified by
Dobbs. “The diner in its historic sense,” he says, “is aesthetically bound to
transportation. Its form and design have drawn upon popular transportation styles
and period décor to become a recognizable fixture in the urban landscape. Wagons,
Pullman cars, streamliner trains, even rockets have served as the models for diner
design. As modes of transportation have evolved, the look and feel of the American
diner has progressed on a parallel track.”

Dobbs has more than 20 years’ experience in historical museum work,
having served as the director of the Noah Webster House and West Hartford
Historical Society and as associate director of education at Mystic Seaport. He holds
an M.A. in Museum Studies from the State University of New York’s Cooperstown
Graduate Program and a B.A. in American History from Indiana University in

The Russell Library is handicap accessible. For further information, contact
the Historical Society at 860-346- 0746.


MCHS March 2011 Wild women tour 1

Past events and programs