Dumbwaiters have their origins in the lavish dessert banquets of the upper classes of the 18th Century. By the turn of the 19th Century, you could find dumbwaiters in the majority of homes across the upper and middle classes.
As well as serving wines and delicious sweets at banquets hosted by the highest rungs of society, they also protected secrets. In the drawing rooms of elegant houses, social climbers and families of incredible industrial wealth would use this time after feasting – when stomachs were full and lips were loose – to discuss secrets.
After meals, tables and chairs were pushed to the peripheries, allowing guests to circulate. Servants carrying wine and sweets were scarce; as the guests, at this point, could serve themselves. After all, waiters and waitresses strolling around the room posed as a serious damper on conversation.
These were the days when servants kept a keen ear out for any titbit of information that they could use to blackmail people concerned. Whether for money, or for position, secrets were a form of currency that could be sold to the highest bidder. Therefore, guests had to be mindful of their words around the staff; you never knew who was on the payroll.
To combat this problem, the dumbwaiter became a must have accessory amongst the British elite. Now, food and drink could be delivered from the kitchen to the other rooms of the house without a single servant having to set foot amongst the dinner guests. This new waiter was a deaf and dumb accomplice, unable to hear or tell of any secrets that the most powerful families in the country were sharing.
This feature wasn’t included in any advertising, but pretty soon, dumbwaiters became so popular amongst the upper-classes, that designs were sent to France and other countries on the Continent where they found equal popularity.
Dumbwaiters are still popular devices today – even if they do carry less secrets than their predecessors.