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Log Cabin Living: Coffee Grinder

Artifacts from 19th Century Life

Written by Madeline Teddy, Museum Intern

Research contributions by Brandon Beltran, Museum Volunteer

Edited for publication by Holly Stewart, Program Manager

The Log Cabin Living: Artifacts from 19th Century Life exhibit at Job Carr Cabin Museum encourages visitors to take a closer look at more than 20 objects in the museum's collection.

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Coffee Grinder on the wall at Job Carr Cabin Museum.

Coffee grinders like the one on display at Job Carr Cabin Museum played a crucial role in a pioneer's life during the 1800s and were the standard method of processing coffee. Unbeknownst at the time, coffee proved to be a safer beverage than regular water. Although they did not have a scientific understanding of bacteria, coffee was literally a life saver on the Oregon Trail. Boiling water for coffee killed germs which could lead to deadly diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

Before grinding the coffee beans, the cook first needed to roast the coffee beans in a frying pan. Then after grinding the beans, the cook would add them to a pot of boiling water and brew it over a fire.

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A kettle over the hearth at Job Carr Cabin Museum.

In cases where coffee beans were unavailable, pioneers resorted to creative alternatives such as brewing corn, sweet potatoes, or peas as substitutes for actual coffee.

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Coffee Coolers by Edwin Forbes, c. 1876. Collection of the Library of Congress

Coffee held a special significance for soldiers during the Civil War. According to Jon Grinspan, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, the word "coffee" appeared more frequently in diaries than terms like "war," "slavery," or "mother." Coffee provided soldiers with energy, boosted morale, and offered comfort. Union soldiers often shared their coffee-making methods, while Confederate soldiers lamented the lack of coffee and experimented with substitutes. Each year, every Union soldier received 36 pounds of coffee. As the war progressed, rations diminished for Confederate soldiers, especially after the Union blockaded southern ports, restricting the South's access to coffee. Coffee remained an essential aspect of a soldier's life, and even when it couldn't be found, soldiers made efforts to create coffee substitutes.

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Image of Howard Carr.

Howard Carr, known for his fondness for coffee, expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of good coffee when the Confederates took him prisoner during the Civil War. His diary entries frequently mention coffee, highlighting its importance in his life.

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Image of Howard Carr's Diary.

Here are just a few of Howard Carr's diary entries mentioning coffee:

“Sam Patch and I was cooking coffee when he got terribly wounded...” ~ June 2d 1864.


“I am too full of joy and coffee.” ~ Nov 30 1864.


“Lying on the deck with hands full of hard tack and a quart of coffee beside me...” ~ Dec 2d 1864.


“Started early. walked 7 miles, not for an appetite but for grub as we haven't any -- Got a pound of crackers and a paper of coffee & eat them.” ~ April 30 1867.

Take a closer look at the museum's coffee grinder in this short video:


The Kitchen Sisters. “If War Is Hell, Then Coffee Has Offered U.S. Soldiers Some Salvation.” NPR, NPR, 25 July 2016,

Webb, Ashley. “Coffee and the Civil War Soldier.” American Battlefield Trust, American Battlefield Trust, 7 Dec. 2021,,slavery%2C’%20or%20’Lincoln.

About the Authors

Madeline Teddy completed an internship with Job Carr Cabin Museum in Fall 2023. She was a graduate of University of British Columbia majoring in history and classical Near Eastern religious studies. She hoped to take her studies further and become a museum curator.

Brendan Michael Beltran volunteered with Job Carr Cabin Museum in Summer 2023. He is a student at University of Washington, majoring in history. One day, he hopes to get into the history field.