Modernizing Harvard Dining Halls, Circa 1950

Dining tray used in Harkness Commons, circa 1950. HUO 13.950.5.1

Modernizing Harvard dining halls, circa 1950

The 14” diameter partitioned plate/tray pictured above was introduced to Harvard dining halls in the 1950s and continued in everyday service until the late 1960s. 

The tray's design is attributed to The Architects Collaborative (TAC) for use in Harkness Commons, part of the Harvard Graduate Center complex designed by TAC and completed in 1950. The Architects Collaborative was established in the 1940s by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and seven other architects.  Gropius, an exiled scholar who came to Harvard from Germany in 1936, served as chair of the department of architecture from 1937 to 1952.

Tested on undergraduates in House dining halls and the Harvard Union, the trays were praised in 1951 by William A. Heaman, manager of the dining halls, for bringing out the natural color of the food and making meals look more appetizing than those served on the old brown trays. Students were impressed with the efficiency of the design, which included a circular compartment in the center to hold a glass, but complained that the low partitions, which led to overflowing gravy and other liquids, were a fatal flaw.  Ruth Sears Chute (AM Radcliffe '33), a member of the Board of Overseers Committee to Visit the Kitchens and Dining Room, commented in 1958 that the trays lacked the charm of attractive china, but that was probably not as important to hungry students as efficiency.


1. Gilbert, Frank B. The Harvard Crimson, "Students Criticize Shallow Partitions in Circular Trays—Gropius: Probably First of Their Kind." Last modified April 17, 1951.
2. Primus IV. Harvard Magazine, The College Pump. "Dining in the Round"
3. Chute, Ruth Sears. Harvard Alumni Bulletin. "A Finger in the Pie: Twenty-One Mothers Keep a Finger and an Eye on Harvard's Dining Halls" November 29, 1958.





Pictured above from left to right: Kirkland House Dining Room (HUV 664 Folder 6 and UAV 605 Box 54)
Unidentified Dining Hall (HUP-SF Student Life, 191) and Lowell House Dining Room (HUV 606 Folder 9-3)