A “lazy Susan” is a rotating tray, placed upon a dining table for easy use in a diner’s access to food (especially condiments). The name “lazy Susan” is cited from at least 1903 in Hingham, Massachusetts; the origin of the name is unknown.
The Oneida Community in upstate New York (near Syracuse) is often credited with inventing the “lazy Susan,” but it’s not clear if Oneida had been manufacturing “lazy Susans” by 1903.
Wikipedia: Lazy Susan
The lazy Susan is a rotating tray, usually circular, placed on top of a table to aid in moving food on a large table or counter top.
This term may also refer to corner cabinets on which the shelves are mounted on a vertical axle such that items may be retrieved by pushing on the shelves to turn them. This type is usually found in kitchens. Closed, this type of lazy Susan appears to be two normal cabinets at right angles to each other. When pushed on, the cabinet “doors” reveal the shelves, which are circular except for the ninety degree cutout where the doors are mounted.
Lazy Susan is also used to describe any type of small, hand-rotated flat platform, e.g. a rotating spice rack for a kitchen cabinet, a rotating TV/monitor platform, a rotating platform used to aid manual tasks like sculpture, model building, electronics repair and fabrication, etc. A larger and/or motor-operated rotating platform is typically referred to as a turntable instead.
The term “Lazy Susan” made its first written appearance in a Vanity Fair advertisement for a “Revolving Server or Lazy Susan” in 1917. Prior to that time they were called dumbwaiters, a term also applied to a type of small elevator for transporting food.
According to Word-detective.com “Whirling Domestics” Jewishworldreview.com, the Susan part of Lazy Susan is suggested to come from servants, who were often named Susan back in the 1700s.
Legend has it that the term was coined in reference to Susan B. Anthony in 1868 by political leaders opposed to her efforts supporting women’s suffrage. The term began to surface after an attempted effort by Anthony to make a case for gender equality by denouncing a woman’s ‘duty’ to fulfill cooking needs within the household. However, her adversaries dismissed the idea as an effort to disguise her laziness, hence, referring to her in the papers as ‘lazy Susan.’
In the context of maintenance engineering, the term Lazy Susan may also be used to describe a device designed for aid artisans in manual activities as a way of avoiding Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WRMDs). The term is also used in a military context to efer to manually or electronically operated weapons turntables
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Main Entry: lazy Su·san
: a revolving tray used for serving food, condiments, or relishes
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Lazy Susan, lazy susan orig. U.S., a revolving (wooden) stand on a table to hold condiments, etc.; a muffin stand.
1917 Vanity Fair (N.Y.) Dec. 17 (Advt.), Revolving Server or *Lazy Susan.
1966 B. ASKWITH Step out of Time ii. 35 The home-made jam on the Lazy Susan in the middle of the table.
1971 Sunday Australian 8 Aug. 10/1 The best china is used. Silver pots of steaming tea and coffee spin round with wheels of gateaux on a massive lazy susan.
8 November 1903, Boston (MA) Journal, “Hingham Indian Maidens Revive Ancient Arts,” third section, pg. 3:
Lazy Susan, Dumb Waitress.
John B. Laurie, as the resuscitator of “Lazy Susan,” seems destined to leap into fortune as an individual worker. “Lazy Susan” is a step toward solving the ever-vexing servant problem. She can be seen, but not heard, nor can she hear, she simply minds her business and carries out your orders in a jiffy.
“Lazy Susan” may be described as a revolving dumb-waitress. She looks like a mahogany pedestal cake plate. The top is made to revolve, so that upon the plate may be placed four or five articles in the after-dinner line—such a bonbons, cakes, nuts, raisins. For a stag-party various brands of smokables could be whirled round by “Susan.” for a round table containing a dozen persons, no “boarding-house stretch” is needed to keep in touch with her various viands.
A Canny Scot’s Nerve.
Talk with Laurie and you will get that true heather dialect that is never lost in years of exile for this sturdy woodworker, born in Aberdeen, has dwelt thirty years in Hingham. Like his neighbor Huntley, he does “society work at night.” By day he makes all things that fall to the lot of a carpenter. Putting the finishing touches to a door, he told how he had created “Lazy Susan.”
“A Hingham lady gave me the design. I took my time, as there was a slight misunderstanding about the time, do you see? She wanted it for a present. Well, when I brought it around hse berated it up and down. She said it wasn’t what she wanted at all. her husband said it was fine.
“But the lady berated it. Then when she was all through she asked how much I would sell it for. I told her it wasn’t for sale, though of course it is.”
Old and ingenious contrivance resuscitated by John Laurie at Hingham.
30 October 1911, Idaho Statesman (Boise, ID), pg. 5:
IS AN IDEAL SERVANT
“Lazy Susan” Works Hard and Never Talks Back.
The housewife of Boise, always on the alert for all that is new and helpful in the way of housekeeping, must now procure a “Lazy Susan.” She may think she has one already, or perhaps a “Lazy Mary or Jane” but that is not the article intended.
A “Lazy Susan,” according to the House Beautiful, is an English invention, a cousin to the “curate’s assistant,” as the English muffin stand is called. She is composed of two circular wooden trays mounted on and revolving around a heavy wooden base and pivot. SHe is destined to occupy the center of the breakfast table, and to hold whatever the hostess desires, passing it politely to her on revolving trays, her board costing nothing.
“Lazy Susan” may be made to pass the hot dishes around a small table, or she may hold only such things as the bread, toast, muffins, cream, butter, etc. In small families, especially, “Lazy Susan” is an important addition to the domestic help and is often indispensable on “days out.”
These stands come with either one or two shelves, each revolving on a separate axis, andcan be found ready made in plain oak and mahogany and also handsomely inlaid.
25 September 1912, Christian Science Monitor, “Giving an Automatic Dinner: Servant dispensed with by means of a turntable,” pg. 13:
It is the turn-table or ‘Lazy Susan,” the characteristic feature of the self-serving dinner-table.
30 November 1912, Frederick (MD) Evening Post, pg. 5, col. 5 ad:
The Lazy Susan
(The Etchison Furniture Store—ed.)
5 April 1914, Kansas City (MO) Star, “A Fitted ‘Lazy Susan,’” fashion and society section, pg. 2:
“Lazy Susan,” as the reolving tray or “serviette” is called, has been fitted out with five dishes. You probably recall mention of this serviette being made in these columns when it first appeared; the tray revolves on a stand in thecenter of the table and it is possible for each person at table to help himself or herself from the dishes on it with ease.
naturally the tray is circular—it is usually of mahogany with a rim sufficiently high to keep the dishes from sliding off when the tray is revolving. The dishes that have been made to fit on this tray cover every bit of it, for there is a circular dish in the center and four fitted around it.
13 May 1914, Decatur (IL) Daily Review, pg. 6, col. 6:
THE “LAZY SUSAN”
Among the various comfort-producing devices which the woman who is getting ready to go to the country should be sure to take along with her is a “Lazy Susan.” Perhaps some of the readers of this paper have never seen a “Lazy Susan” or, indeed, have never even heard of one.
How the name originated I do not know but it is a curious and interesting one and in no way suggests the object it is applied to. For “Lazy Susan” is a dish or, rather, a collection of dishes. It is designed to simplify table service for the housekeeper who does her own work, to take the place of a waitress on her “day off” and even to assist her when she is present. Why such a helpful article should be termed “lazy” it is rather difficult to determine. probably the name was given because of the fact that the dish enables its owner to “take her work more easily” than she could without its assitance.
August-September 1916, American Cookery, pg. 105, col. 2:
There is a table arrangement used much in Germany, which has now found its way to America, though it is still by no means common. The German frau calls it “Lazy Susan,” but it is entirely different from our product used for salt and pepper shakers. its only point of similarity is the swivel upon which it turns. The one which joys my heart is of mahogany, and it turns automatically at the slightest touch. it contains seven china dishes, six of which are trapezoids, the center one being octagonal. The trapezoids fit about the center octagon, forming a perfect whole.
January 1918, Century Magazine, pg. 396, col. 2:
A few tables, a very few, still sport the “lazy Susan,” a kind of merry-go-round for eatables.
January-March 1919, The Unpopular Review, pg. 73:
And at dinner I do like a table-cloth, and do not like in the centre of the table one of those revolving things which, in more prosperous days, I knew only at breakfast and luncheon, and heard called a “butler’s assistant”, but which, since I’ve been hard up, I’ve been taught to call a Lazy Susan. I don’t like ti even if it has flowers on its own centre.
Official Metropolitan Guide, May 4th, 1919
By Hotel Association of New York City
SHE’S a helpful person to have on the table—and she really isn’t lazy at all. Rather, her name should be “Handy Susan.” A “lazy Susan” is a revolving trey to stand in the center of the table and on which are placed pepper, salt, sugar and various condiments.
Communal Utopias and the American Experience:
Religious communities, 1732-2000
By Robert P. Sutton
Westport, CT: Praeger
Their (Oneida’s—ed.) ingenuity rivaled the Shakers. They invented the first lazy Susan, a mechanized mop wringer, potato peeler, and washing machine.
New York (NY) Times
The Utopia of Sharing in Oneida, N.Y.
By BETH QUINN BARNARD
Published: August 3, 2007
THEY wanted to create a heaven on earth. For 33 years they believed they’d succeeded, at a utopian commune infamous for “free love.”
Nineteenth-century visitors to the Oneida Community in central New York State found a family of 300 individuals who lived in a rambling brick Mansion House and shared everything — their worldly possessions, their religious fervor, their sexual partners. Tourists came by the thousands on the railroad and paid 60 cents for one of the community’s mostly vegetarian dinners, or 25 cents for an evening’s “grand entertainment.”
On display in the History Room is an array of the Oneida Community’s inventions, like the Victor mousetrap and the lazy Susan, as well as some of their peculiarities, like the knee-length dresses-over-pants costumes that the women wore.