The Origins of the “Lazy Susan”, a Rotating Serving Table Found in Chinese Restaurants

The oldest known table resembling a “Lazy Susan” was sold in January 2010 at Christie’s London auction house. The mahogany spinning table was dated back to 1780 and sold for $3,900. Although the first spinning plate can be dated back to the 1700’s, the Lazy Susan was not a common centerpiece at the table until the 20th century.

According to the Smithsonian, the “Lazy Susan” originated in the early 1900s in Europe and the Americas. The “Lazy Susan” was referred to as the “dumb-waiter” due to the revolving tabletops purpose of serving as a replacement for help during meals.

In 1903, The Boston Journal referred to the table stating, “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.” The term was added to the Webster’s Dictionary in 1933.

Why the name Susan? Many scholars speculate that Susan might have been a common name for a female servant. Others claim that the name Susan comes from a specific incompetent servant named Susan. Although these theories are interesting, there is no evidence that either is true. A more likely theory is that the name Lazy Susan was a marketing ploy by the manufacturer of the Lazy Susan. Combining popular names with adjectives is common in the English language; examples include, “peeping Tom” or “Jolly Roger.”

The first known mention of a Chinese rotating table comes from a Book of Agriculture written over 700 years ago. Wang Zhen, a Chinese official mentioned a moving table to address the challenges of typewriting with thousands of individual Chinese characters. The table resembled the Lazy Susan.

In the 1950’s Chinese food underwent a makeover. In 1953, in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Johnny Kan opened a Cantonese-style restaurant. George Hall, a friend of Kan, engineered a revolving tabletop for the restaurant’s banquet room. Due to the popularity of the restaurant and subsequent press attention, the Lazy Susan made its way back onto dining room tables. The rotating tabletop became a staple of Chinese restaurants both in the United States and abroad.

 

By: Alexandra Davis