For those of us with a fondness for vintage, what retro inspired kitchen would be complete without a few pieces of brightly colored melmac dinnerware?
I began collecting melmac dishes a few years ago. It reminds me of eating oatmeal and sipping homemade hot cocoa in the morning at Grandma’s when I was little. Every time I pull one of my melamine bowls from the cabinet I am reminded of those happy times as a child. But do we know how these wonderful dishes came about? I thought it would be fun to share a little history on the subject today….
Composed of nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen, the compound was invented in the 1830s by a German scientist and came into fashion as a material used to make plastics and laminates in the late 1930s. When combined with formaldehyde and exposed to extreme heat, melamine creates a moldable material that, when cooled, is virtually unbreakable and dishwasher-safe. This made it the durable dishware of choice on some U.S. Navy ships during World War II. After the war, designer Russel Wright and the St. Louis-based company Branchell, among others, developed molded dinnerware out of melamine, known as Melmac, designing sets under names like “Flair,” “Fortiflex” “Boonton”and “Color-Flyte.”
Throughout the 1950s, as Americans started buying processed foods and washing machines, clamoring for anything that conveyed “modern,” colorful melamine bowls and plates became mainstays in kitchens across the country.
Unfortunately, Melmac tableware was prone to scratches and stains and so the dishes fell out of favor by the 1970s, as more resilient household plastics were phased in and families returned to ceramic, china and glass-made dishes.
In the past decade or so, Melmac has become popular again, with collectors and savvy eBay dealers selling Wright and Branchell pieces, and new designers using the material for retro-themed household items.
Thinking about starting your own collection? Thrift shops are a good place to start. The internet offers a plethora of websites selling vintage melmac including Ebay, Etsy and even here at Lisa’s.
I hope you enjoyed this little trip back in time and perhaps you learned a liitle bit today! I love my melamine treasures and if you are a collector I am suree you do too!
Thanks for stopping by today!
Sources: Time.com, Wickpedia.com, Antique Helper.com,
I just found my first piece of melmac at a yard sale for 25 cents. Am I suppose to hand wash?
I actually put mine in the dishwasher and they have been fine. If there is a printed design on the piece I would recommend handwashing. Congrats on your find!