little steel boxes in walls

In my family’s apartment (built about 1920) in New York City there was a small steel
box. It was underneath the kitchen window, and had a door and handle, but no lock. I have seen this in several apartments, and in each case it was under the kitchen window. Neither my parents nor grandparents or anyone we know ever used it, and they said they did not know the purpose either. what the hell is it?

Well, i can’t say exactly, but my suspicion is that they are thermistat boxes. They are placed near the window to make sure that it is at least as warm as it needs to be.

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

If you need a graphic solution, http:\\Piglet


The little steel boxes sealed into walls and cellars of old buildings contain singing frogs.

Once free, these singing frogs jump out of the box, don a top hat and cane, and proceed to prance about while singing “hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my rag-time gal…”

You’ll be lulled into thinking you’ve got a goldmine on your hands, but only after renting a theater, tuxedo and free beer, will you discover the frog sings only for you. You will be booed of the stage, pelted with ripe tomatoes and be scorned and ridiculed for the rest of your days.

Just a warning.


I forget to mention - the boxes were about 16 inches high, maybe 10 inches wide, and maybe 6 or more inches deep.

Do these boxes open from the outside and from the inside?

We had one of those in the house I grew up in. We always assumed it was a Milk Box.

The Milk man would come and put the milk in there and when you wanted you would just pull it out. Could be wrong but that was our WAG.

Thanks Guys -

the boxes did not open from the outside and had no connections of any kind to anything else. They were in each apartment, even mine which was on the top of a fifth floor walk up. The mystery remains.

Was it big enough to hold like a block of ice and some food? Cause I believe ice used to be delivered door to door back then. At least it was on the Three Stooges…

“When I was seventeen…I had a very good beer…”

  • Homer Simpson

Here’s a totally unsupportable wild-assed guess. Maybe they were to hold the clothespins and other accoutrements to hang laundry out. All the pictures of tenements I recall seeing had clotheslines outside their window…

Ok, I have a definitive answer from my mother who lived in those types of buildings way back when. I am sorry it took so long to get this information for you but I was forced to go through a long “Oh I remember when I was a kid” and other such walks down memory lane.

She said that in the summer, her mother (whose own parents were bakers in Sweden) would bake pies, then put them on the sill to cool. After they were cool, they went in that little box. Because the box was in the wall of brick and lined, it didn’t get really hot OR cold in there, so meringue type pies and such didn’t get funky (my word not hers) and other types just plain old stayed fresher and, ahem, “bug free”. She said they also kept bread in there when the breadbox was over full.

Now keep in mind, my mother is not above tossing out a WAG here and there and claiming it’s the gospel truth, but in this case, I believe her. It triggered WAY too many “Oh I remember whens” for her to be making it up.

Finally, and I will stop yammering, she informs me that she did not have to walk up hill in the snow five miles each way to school. She said she took the bus.

Wow Missy, you may have just answeres TWO question for the price of one!

About two weeks ago sombody wanted to know “Is it bigger than a breadbox? Whats a breadbox?”



I’d like to add some evidence that tends to confirm what Missy said. I’ve been in a number of kitchens in those really grim looking apartment buildings, and I’m sure I remember seeing similar boxes. IIRC,they had no bricks, but, given the climate were more often than not cooler than the kitchen interior. People kept potatos, oil, and other foods that didn’t need to be refrigerated, but which keep longer where it’s cool, in these boxes.

That previous post should have said "those really grim looking RUSSIAN apartment buildings.

Proofreading with your mouse sitting on the “reply” button is a bad idea.

I own a breadbox! Got it at a garage sale for a buck. It is made of aluminum, is 15 1/2 inches long by 11 inches wide at the base, and about seven inches high. It has a rounded front with a roll-up door sort of like an old fashioned writing desk. It will hold two smaller loaves of bread, or one plus a half-empty large ones. I was overjoyed to get it, since our cats seem to love eating bread, and it’s the only way to keep it away from them.

My visualization is probably incorrect (having never seen such a box in a wall (other than for milk or mail)), but I thought, as described as under the kitchen window, it would also be over the kitchen sink, and thus be designed to contain cleaning materials for dishes and the sink.

Ray (Could also have taken the place of microwave ovens, prior to their invention, for the disposal of extra pets and babies.)