The Massive Collection Of Diner Relics Every History Buff Should See

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Richard Gutman is known as The Dinerman, notes The Providence Journal. Having spent decades gathering memorabilia related to American eating establishments, Gutman photographed and visited roadside diners, wrote books, and participated in restoration projects across the United States.

The start of diners can be traced back to 1872 when cheap late-night food was served out of wagons to workers once restaurants closed their doors for the day (per Smithsonian Magazine). Eventually, these wagons morphed into "rolling restaurants" with seats inside to accommodate weary customers. These "lunch cars" were eventually called "dining cars" — then simply "diner" for short. According to Smithsonian Magazine, diners were made in factories and shipped to locations throughout America. By the 1950s, 6,000 diners popped up across the country.

Gutman began studying diners when writing his thesis as part of Cornell University's architecture program, eventually working alongside museums and groups to preserve and restore diners (per Gutman's website). In 2019, he donated his collection to The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, which is digitizing the collection for online audiences (per The Henry Ford Museum).

A capsule of yesterday

Gutman's extensive collection remains the country's largest display of diner memorabilia and includes 7,000 images in its library, notes Atlas Obscura. In addition to photographs and old menus, history enthusiasts can view matchboxes and postcards collected from various diners across America.

If you can't make it to the Henry Ford Museum or visit a diner for yourself, you can track down one of Gutman's books on the subject, such as his photo-forward book entitled, "American Diner." "If you want to be able to tell a Fodero from a Worcester Lunch Car, or a Paramount from a Mountain View, this is your book. If you just want to gawk at diner pictures, this is also your book," reader Bruce Horner wrote on the book's Amazon listing. We admit that while there is something about nostalgia, there's also nothing quite like a hearty diner meal of pancakes and eggs served with a classic cup of diner coffee.