Thanks, but I do suspect that the Slatbox "history" is somewhat anecdotal. As a parallel, here's an "official" reply from Masonite Corp:
Pegboard or (HardBoard) was first introduced by Masonite in the
early 1930. I just used google search engine and typed in early Masonite
Um, yeah ... google search is a good starting point, but you do have to sort the wheat from the chafe and the sheepdip from the shinola!
Masonite developed their hardboard process in 1924. Low-density fiberboard was available LONG before that, but the Masonite hardboard process was apparently very successful at popularizing it ... add to that the depression-era need for low-cost materials and then the WWII need for alternative materials, and the stuff became really popular. (That said, Masonite was promoting their "plain" hardboard for use in tool displays in 1938, the pegboard doesn't show up in popular use until the 1950s -- if I've missed "real" references, I'd love to see them!)
There ARE references to the use of "perforated hardboard" in sound-deadening applications prior to WWII. It seems as likely that the idea for this arose from the availabiility
of such material ... but that's not clear. However, as suggested below, I did find MANY illustrations of various hardboard and/or plywood panels used to create various "tool board" organizers, and, in that regard, the pegboard doesn't seem to show up until 1953 ...
(slatted walls!) circa 1927
... oh no! Looks like I could have stuck with my first horrifying design ... and I even could have added an Ikea spice rack to store the small hardware.
Found many, many interesting references -- searched both Popular Mechanics
and Popular Science
magazines using Google book search and setting a custom date range of 1920-1945. Most useful searches were "tool rack" and "tool board" ... "workbench" provides way too many results to really sort, but a few interesting ones popped up. This one looks practical for a modeling scene.
This one looks like it would be really cheesy in real life ... and even cheesier in a model scene! Lots of hardboard tool panels!
Found many examples. The "Portable Tool Rack" (May 1938) shown in a previous post illustrates a nice arrangement of automotive tools. The one above has the shadow-box framing, which shows up often ... and there are many references to painting tool outlines/shapes on the hardboard. Also, many different types of material used to fasten tools to the board:
scrap leather belts, scrap rubber (inner tubes), bits of galvanized pipe strap (at least as early as 1927 there), various wood blocks, bits of wire, old coil springs, wire mesh and so forth ...
Several like this take it a step further and have shaped inserts or holders for the individual tools. Guess they didn't have routers handy then, but surprised they didn't suggest a jigsaw for the cut-outs!
Historic "proof" that my hardboard tool panel is authentic ... Mr. Mudgeon perusing the May 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics
Again, searching thru the old issues of Popular Mechanics
and Popular Science
illustrates a lot of interesting and "period authentic" ideas ... some very practical, some a bit nutty and some quite fanciful. (Even saw an "ultra modern" Frank Lloyd Wright-style workshop in a 1939 issue.) Not sure if the google book search will work internationally -- sorry if that's the case -- but a neat resource.
Also, there are various companies like the one below that specialize in "vintage" equipment, fixtures, etc. from old industrial shops. Some neat examples of 1920s-1940s metal furnishings and other stuff to be found:http://www.urbanremainschicago.com/default.aspx?pageID=44