Produced by the West Bend Aluminum Company, the Penguin Hot and Cold Server was an essential cocktail party piece in the late 1940s and 1950s. As part of our continuing look at the objects that tell Wisconsin’s story, Ann Glasscock tells us about the Penguin Server and its place on Wisconsin’s tables.
Designed to insulate both hot and cold foods, the Penguin highlights the resurgence in home entertainment after the Second World War, including the rise of outdoor grilling and cocktail parties. The Penguin was the work of inventor Ralph N. Kircher. He patented the design in 1941 but wartime restrictions on aluminum meant the Penguin didn’t really take off until after the war.
The West Bend Aluminum Company was part of Wisconsin’s thriving aluminum industry, which took hold along the Lake Michigan shore in the first decades of the 20th century. West Bend expanded its line after World War II to meet the needs of a growing consumer culture. To satisfy new families and new brides, West Bend created a line of Teflon-coated pans and items like the Penguin Hot and Cold Server and the Party Perk automatic coffee percolator, all of which flew off the shelves.
One of the most common uses of the Penguin Server was as a container for ice cubes, an essential part of cocktail parties. Cocktail parties weren’t new, of course, but they became incredibly popular in the late 1940s and 1950s after Prohibition, the deprivations of the Depression, and the horrors of World War II. People were desperate to relax and unwind, and to do so with alcohol. Add to this the growth in suburban living that meant smaller dining rooms so parties became less about dinner than about finger foods and mixed drinks.
The Penguin also found a place in outdoor parties as entertainment moved from the front yard to the back with the rise of patios and decks. Outdoor grilling became a popular form of entertainment and the Penguin Server provided a great container for side dishes.
This story was produced in partnership with the Wisconsin 101, a collaborative project to explore Wisconsin’s story in objects. Visit Wisconsin 101 to learn more about the Penguin Server, find more objects, and submit one of your own.