The rise and fall of the American diner, 1920–1960

Daniel Robert Viveiros, Salve Regina University


This dissertation will demonstrate that changing technology and culture played an important role in the rise and fall of the American diner. The lunch wagon that evolved into the diner was created to fill a void in late-night dining during the American Industrial Revolution. The expanding industrial base of New England created fertile ground for the birth of a new food-service industry. The primary research methods employed in the study consisted of historical examinations, site visitations and interviews. Diners throughout the Northeast were visited as a mechanism for verifying historical data concerning construction techniques and materials. Interviews were conducted to investigate the reasons customers patronized diners. The principal findings indicate that technology wielded a double-edged sword. It was used to transform the horse-drawn lunch wagon into the modern diner. State-of-the-art construction techniques and materials were liberally used to enhance the efficiency of the diner, while making the eatery more physically attractive to its patrons. Technology had a negative influence on the diner also. As the fast-food concept spread across the country, diner operators were unable to meet the challenges that confronted them. Technological advances also affected the eating behavior and service expectation of society in general. These factors led to the decline of diners in the 1960s. Preservationists have embarked on a campaign to save this American icon by placing several diners on the National Register. This dissertation will elaborate on these and other topics.

Subject Area

Social structure|American history|American studies|Geography

Recommended Citation

Viveiros, Daniel Robert, "The rise and fall of the American diner, 1920–1960" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI9961188.