The Birth and Rebirth of the American Diner

The Birth and Rebirth of the American Diner

The smell alone can lure most of us to the comfortable booth of a classic American diner. Sputtering grease wafts through the air, letting you know that the bacon will be crisp. You can smell the caramelizing onions on the flat top grill waiting to be put in an omelet. Coffee steams under your nose as you make room for a side of hash browns.


It can be your home away from home or just a part of your daily routine. We often socialize and make friends while slowly becoming “regulars”. And before you know it, you don’t even have to tell your waitress what you want anymore.


Let’s take a look at the history of the American diner and how it has evolved over time.

The Humble Beginning Of The American Diner.

Walter Scott, a Providence, Rhode Island-type compositor and part-time pressman, unintentionally created the American diner. Scott, then 17, started selling sandwiches and coffee to newspaper night workers and men’s club patrons. In 1872, Scott began selling food from his covered wagon-covered horse-drawn express wagon outside of the Providence Journal newspaper office.

The American Diner Gets Its First Facelift.

A few people were inspired by the success of Scott’s converted wagon and started companies to make lunch wagons. Customers could now sit inside these wagons, be protected from weather, and enjoy the comfort of stools at the counters. 


Lunch wagons became extremely popular as workers and pedestrians could buy inexpensive meals throughout the day, but also at night when most restaurants were closed. They became so popular that many cities and towns passed ordinances to limit the hours they could operate. This was due to customers blocking traffic by standing around the cart waiting for service. Owners were able to get around these laws by placing their wagons in semi-permanent places. 


At this same time, horse-drawn streetcars were being replaced with electrified versions. Many of these now obsolete streetcars were bought and converted into dining cars. Most owners had to make a living, even though they were on very tight budgets. The “greasy spoon” became a common name for dining cars, which were also gathering places for the less-savory aspects of the community.


Manufacturers attempted to improve the image of old, dingy dining cars and night meals by using the railroad car look and the word “diner” in their designs. The design of dining cars remained relatively unchanged up until the introduction of the modern streamline style in the 1930s.

Demand Rises As The Troops Come Home.

The demand for diners grew dramatically after World War II. G.I. benefits are available to servicemen. The end of the war brought back soldiers with money to burn, and the economy was moving to non-military production. A dozen diner producers were competing for a share of the economic pie in 1948.


The look of diners changed as people moved from cities to newly created suburbs. To attract passing motorists, new design features such as large windows and exteriors made entirely from stainless steel were added to the designs. In the 1950s, new developments such as air conditioning, ventilation, and advancements in lighting increased the popularity of the American diner.

Ronald Mcdonald Comes Out Swinging.

The creation of fast-food restaurants caused diners to lose a large share of the dining market. Americans wanted affordable food that was quick and convenient. The few remaining diner producers responded to the new threat by marketing diner-restaurants in Neoclassical, Tudor, or Mediterranean styles. The flashy appearance of neon and stainless steel was replaced by dark stained woods brick, artificial stonework, and earth tone colors.

The American Diner Stands Up To The Test Of Time.

In the 1970s, a revival of the American diner was initiated. American manufacturers were looking backward to find inspiration and the values of yesterday during times of economic and moral uncertainty. As part of their new marketing strategies, several national corporate franchises like Denny’s and Silver Diners modified the diner’s look and feel.


Today, the American diner remains popular and the National Register’s list of diners is growing each year. The American diner is a community gathering place where people of all backgrounds can enjoy a home-cooked meal in a relaxed and comfortable setting.


Plantation Diner is “Where good friends meet, and the food is hard to beat!”. Our fast and friendly staff is ready to serve you from our huge selection of breakfast items. If you’re in a hurry, stop by and we’ll whip you up something hot, hearty, and delicious in no time.

We are located at 6903 W. Broward Blvd – Plantation, FL 33317. The coffee gets going at 6 am Monday through Saturday and 6:30 on Sunday.  Visit our site and see what a true diner experience can be like.