Andrea Ludden, founder of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
The only Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in the United States is located in a strip mall in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It’s easy to miss and it’s pretty nondescript from the outside.
But inside? Wow!
The museum is packed with more than 20,000 salt and pepper shakers which tell an incredible story of our human history in carefully-curated categories featuring everything from pop culture to royalty to famous people and characters.
It’s fascinating, eye-catching and, truly, one of those hidden gems that you always hope to come across when you travel but rarely actually find.
Archaeologist Andrea Ludden opened the museum in 2002 as a labor of love. She wanted to share her personal collection of these everyday objects which are found in every household and which reveal so much about their time and place.
“Our mother was adamant about showcasing how you can trace history in salt and pepper shakers,” said her daughter Andrea, who acts as administrator for the museum along with her brother, Alex. “She loved the idea of telling a story through them.”
The elder Andrea’s collection grew so large that, in 2010, she opened a second Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum – with another 20,000 shakers! – in Spain. These are the only two museums of their kind in the world.
Here, in the younger Ludden’s own words, are just some of the objects you’ll see at the Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum. Be warned: you may get so caught up in Ludden’s enthusiasm for her subject matter that you’ll want to treat yourself to a pair of shakers of your own. Conveniently, your $3 admission goes toward the purchase of one of the 1000 pairs available in the irresistible gift shop.
Car-shaped salt and pepper shakers — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
"In today’s world, we live more hours in our cars than almost anywhere else, so here is a tribute to the traffic jam!
"Souvenir salt and pepper shakers became all the rage in the 1950s, with families taking road trips and cross-country vacations. You can see the Airstream-like trailers they would travel in to the National Parks, exotic places like Florida or out west to California on Route 66. All of these very iconic places are represented in salt and pepper shakers, which they brought home as mementos of their trips."
Numerous light bulb shakers — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
"In 1879, Thomas Edison applied for the patent to the incandescent light bulb and, in 2009, the LED light bulb was introduced.
"Within our lifetime, we will see the light bulb, found in every home, go by the wayside as LEDs are already bringing a new way of lighting the world. I’m glad we have lots of examples of something we all grew up with and that was part of our everyday life, but that our great-grandkids may not even recognize."
Vegetable Patch — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
"The Vegetable Patch is one of several storyboards our mother created within the museum. Here you can find all sorts of vegetables in multiple colors and varieties.
"There’s so much more found in a garden, though, and fairies, gnomes, snails and bugs are also showcased in salt and pepper shakers. The majority of the gnomes & elves are from the '40s and have European roots. After WWII, servicemen came home with souvenirs from overseas reflecting a new taste for European art."
Dolly Parton tribute — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
“Dolly Parton is our hometown girl and, of course, we want to pay homage to her.
"Her song, 'Love is Like a Butterfly,' from the 1974 album of the same name, was a big hit. But Dolly’s fascination with butterflies started much earlier, as she explained in a recent interview: 'Butterflies are my symbol. As a child, I used to get lost chasing them and got my butt whipped for wandering too far off.' This butterfly set is also from the '70s as you can tell by the size and colors."
Shark and surfer shakers — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
"Not too long ago, magnets were introduced to salt and pepper shakers. Here is a great example, with the surfer magnetized to the shark. This set is pretty recent, and it shows how our society thinks about sharks – it’s attacking a surfer, which we seem to hear about in the news a lot more over the past 10 years or so.
"However, just behind it, you'll see a shark jumping out with its mouth open. This is the image most people remember from the movie Jaws, which came out in 1975. So the shakers show how our portrayal of sharks have changed over time. What will be next – a shark shaker with a tornado?!"
Washing machine shakers — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
"The creativity found in shakers can make you shake your head. The red set here is an old-fashioned wringer washing machine. The tub is the sugar container and the rollers are the salt and pepper shakers. This set shows how clothes were washed back in the '20s.
"But in the background is a set from the 1940s that you would have received as a gift when you purchased a Westinghouse washer and dryer. What a great way to advertise your product by having the shakers sit at the table."
Squirrel shakers — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
"The creativity behind salt and pepper shakers is not only found in the subject matter, but also in the materials used to make or decorate them.
"Look at this lovely example of the squirrels with their furry tails playing catch around a tree trunk. The time period is clearly the 1950s, when colors were vibrant and everything was embellished. There are shakers made of pretty much anything you can think of, from ceramic to wood and from coal to titanium. We have so many of them in our collection, and sometimes it’s just mind-boggling."
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Kitchen-themed salt and pepper shakers — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
"The kitchen and food section naturally goes hand in hand with salt and pepper shakers. The kitchen is the heart of a home, and seeing familiar objects brings back so many memories, which is what our mother wanted the museum to do.
"Here you can see the orange and avocado green that were so popular back in the '60s and '70s. They inspire many guests to reminisce about their childhood or about their own first home. This would make our mother very happy."
Nature-themed shakers — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
"What is Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains without the wildlife that call this area home? The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most biodiverse park in the National Park system, and animal shakers are, not surprisingly, always popular.
"There are lots of bears in this region, and one of the most famous bears of all time is, of course, Smokey. He came out with his slogan, 'Remember... Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires' in 1944 and these shakers are from the ‘50s."
Apollo 15 Lunar Roving Vehicle — Photo courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
"We have shakers representing so many important people and events in history, from The Beatles to Lucy and Ethel to a copy of the salt and pepper shaker cufflinks worn by Princess Diana.
"Here’s a great representation of the Apollo 15 Lunar Roving Vehicle on the moon in 1971. I can’t wait to see what we’ll be adding in years to come."