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Kitchen Appliances (Living the Twenties #AtoZChallenge 2020)

The Twenties were a time of great innovation in the field of appliances for the kitchen and elsewhere. Many discoveries and inventions had already been made during the 1800s. WWI gave a great push to the application of these inventions. In the 1920s, when the war was over, many appliances appeared on the market, with prices many people could afford. 

The new electrified house allowed implementing a lot of new appliances designed to make housework easier and were a symbol of great modernity. 

The number of electrified houses increased steadily from the end of WWI throughout the 1920s and 1930s when almost all urban houses had electricity. The production and commercialisation of house appliances increased accordingly. 

In a short decade, home appliances went from being expensive and unreliable toys for the rich to moderately priced, dependable and useful tools for the middle-class. Though some of them remained too expensive and too little dependable to become common in the house. 

Which were the most common appliances of the 1920s?

Many house appliances first appeared on the mass market in the 1920s, though they might have looked quite differently from the ones we are accustomed to today..

Vacuum cleaner

Already in the 180ss, different devices that swept dust from carpets existed, but the vacuum cleaner that used the same principle as those that we use today was invented in 1901 in England by Hubert Cecil Booth. It was so big it could not enter buildings, only its tubes would go in from the windows.

The first portable vacuum cleaner that had an electric motor and a rotating brush was invented by a janitor from Canton, Ohio, James Murray Spangler in 1907. Lacking the money to begin his own production, Spangler sold the patent to William Henry Hoover in 1908. Hoover redesigned the vacuum cleaner and later added disposal filter bags.

Smoothing irons

Ironing clothes was a hard, tiring job because it required to stand by a heating stove for a long time, no matter the weather. Throughout the 1800s, more than one person had considered powering irons with electricity. Henry W. Seely of New York first made this idea workable already in 1881.

Still, it was only when electricity became commonly available in the home, in the 1920s, that electric irons become more common. But not more reliable or effective, apparently, since many people still preferred to use a flat iron for a few more decades. 

In the 1920s, when the war was over, many house appliances that we take for granted today appeared on the market, with prices many people could afford #history #historybuff Share on X
Washing machine

The name washing machine may be deceptive since the first washing machine didn’t look at all like the one we know today. The first electric washing machines were quite simple devices. They had a motor that powered the agitation of the water, detergent and soiled items and drove the wringer into which wet items had to be inserted by hand. Alva J. Fisher invebted it in 1908 and the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago maeketed it. 

The job of washing clothes was among the most tiring, time-consuming and messy work of the housewife. Fisher’s washing machine was still laborious if we think of it with our minds of today. It still made the job a lot faster and less of a hustle. 

By the 1920s, it had become affordable by many middle-class households.

Refrigerator

The history of the electric refrigerator is a bit different. 

Early versions of some electric appliance existed by the 1920s. But they were expensive and not very dependable. In fact, most households preferred to continue relying on the iceboxes, the traditional insulated chest cooled by blocks of ice that had been in use since the 1860s. Some even still used underground storage. 

The first refrigerator that many households would afford was the General Electric’s “Monitor-Top,” first produced in 1927. It worked with a compressor assembly that emitted such great deal of heat that needed to stand above the cabinet.

Did appliances really make the life of housewives easier?

It may seem that with all these innovations the work of the housewives became less tiring and time-consuming. That – as advertisements were eager to point out – these women could use their free time for themselves and for the pursuit of their interests. 

What they did was keeping their houses and their families cleaner. Since they had more time because the machine did a part of the job, women were expected to use the extra time to do extra work. 



RESOURCES

Khan Academy – 1920s Consumption
Part Select – The Rise of the Electric Home Appliance
Gloster Edu – New Appliances of the 1920’s

Kyvig, David E., Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940. How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2002

Vacuum Cleare History – Invention and History of Vacuum Cleaners
Old and Interesting – Early electric irons
ThoughtCo. – A Brief History of Washing Machines


39 Comments

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 13, 2020 at 11:14

    Lord, I hate vacuuming, even with the small and light vacuums we have now… Being a housewife was hard work back in those days!

    The Multicolored Diary

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:46

      We often don’t realise it, but house work was incredibly heavy, and tiring and potentially dangeraous in the past decades. I mean, look at that washing machine. It’s devilery! And still it was a huge improvement in comparison to the past. I’ve learned from a dacumentary that it took three days to do the laundry in the Victorian times. It sounds like hell to me.

  • Linda Curry
    Posted April 13, 2020 at 11:30

    It has been interesting to watch the change in appliances even since I was born in 1951. Of course it took some people a generation or more to catch up with the current labour saving devices. I think the refrigerator has probably been the most useful of them all.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:48

      Yes. If you think that even when they were available, some people still prefer to do it the old way. It’s a change that is surprisingly slow to happen.
      And I think it is happenign againnow, especially with the new ‘internet’ technology. Getting use to all these new opportunities and new ways is still harder than we think.

  • Viyoma
    Posted April 13, 2020 at 12:36

    Interesting read. The last part – I think applies even today. Lot of assistance from machines- should ideally leave ladies with real extra time in hand. But very few really use the extra time to indulge in areas of their interest.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:49

      True, eh? When anything allows us to have mor etime available for ourselves, expectations are always that you should use that time to do more of the work. I don’t know what’s wrong with out head…

  • Frédérique
    Posted April 13, 2020 at 16:43

    A lot of new appliances at once! Today I guess the progress is not making appliances better, but not considering those house tasks to be only women work…

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:50

      I think the change is more on the ‘internet’ side, nowadays. But the advance and the uneasiness to use new technologies is mostly the same.

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 13, 2020 at 17:36

    Fancy appliances or not, I’ve always considered housework absolute drudgery and boredom. I feel sorry for the generations of women who were pressured or forced into being full-time housewives and never doing anything else with their lives. My poor and proletarian ancestors wouldn’t have had access to these modern appliances in the 1920s, so their workload was as punishing as before.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:55

      Errrr…. I have to admit I’m not a very good housewife myself, no matter the appliance I can use. I sometimes wonder how women who didn’t like housework fared in the past.

  • Anagha Yatin
    Posted April 13, 2020 at 17:39

    I take the advent of the technology that led to many machines to help the housework, with a pinch of salt. Its good to know that many things that make my life easy like iron, washing machine, et el were the product of the earlier century. However the expectations from the house maker to do some extra work sound unreasonable. Those were the times…which we cant help. Has it really changed for the house maker of today’s era, I wonder?
    PS: I have missed reading the previous posts. I will catch up on them by the weekend. Keeping fingers crossed.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:56

      Personally, I don’t think expectations have changed a great deal. And it’s not just for housewives. Whenever a new technology allows us to free time for ourselves, we are normally expected to use that time not for us, but for the job.

  • Sonia Dogra
    Posted April 13, 2020 at 18:17

    I would agree. Since they had more time they were probably pushed into more mundane jobs. And expected to be SUPER WOMEN

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:57

      Yeah. Women are still expected to be SuperWomen today.

  • Keith's Ramblings
    Posted April 13, 2020 at 18:50

    One appliance invented in the 20’s which has remained relatively unchanged is the AGA cooker. Another really interesing chapter.

    K is for …

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:59

      I had to look it up, Keith. And now that I’ve seen it… I love it!

  • Anne Nydam
    Posted April 13, 2020 at 20:56

    I’ve read about how the time a woman was expected to spend on housework each day actually got longer after the introduction of all these appliances. As for myself, I don’t mind doing laundry with the washer, and am extremely glad not to have to do it by hand. I don’t actually do much vacuuming because we don’t have a lot of carpet, so mostly I just sweep (but I don’t do either as often as I should!) And I absolutely couldn’t live without the refrigerator.
    (Click the Blog link on the second row) : K is for Kittens

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 10:00

      Truly. Can you imagine a housewife’s work without all the appliances we have today? It’s when I research such topics as this that I’m so grateful to live in this time. We often don’t appreciate it.

  • msjadeli
    Posted April 14, 2020 at 02:30

    My grandma, born about 100 years ago, started out with a washboard, and I still have it. By the time I was old enough to remember she had a “modern” washing machine. I remember my mom had a wringer washer. Amazing to me. I consider my front-loading high efficiency washing machine a blessing compared to either of those choices.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 10:03

      True, eh? I know that my grandma did things a lot differently before the war. I’m so sad that I never heard many stories about that time from her.
      Keep that board like a treasure. Sadly, we learn the value of these things coming down to us in our family when we are grown up and some of them get lost over the years. But if we’re lucky enough to have some of them saved fo us, we should treasure them. It’s our very own history.

  • Kristin
    Posted April 14, 2020 at 04:10

    My mother had a wringer washer when I was little and used an ice box until I was almost two.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 10:04

      You know? I’m totally fascinated with ice boxes. I don’t know why.

  • JOHN T. SHEA
    Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:23

    Thanks, Sarah, for this great piece and the videos. I must say some of those early mod cons actually looked dangerous!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 10:05

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. And I can’t imagine working that early washing machine. It’s a thing of devil!

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 15, 2020 at 16:04

    Of course extra time meant extra work! We seem wired that way. LOL. I’m so grateful for the invention of washing machines and refrigerators — they make life so much easier.

    An A-Z of Faerie: Kelpie

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 08:21

      Me too. And You know? I was watching a series of video on YouTube concerning everyday life in the house in Victorian Times. I’m shocked how dangerous those houses were.

  • Katarina Martinovic
    Posted April 25, 2020 at 10:42

    Great article with perfect videos! I really liked looking at the old appliances of the past. Some of those in almost mint condition will fetch a good amount of money. So glad things are a lot more convenient today! This stuff is amazing though! Thank you for sharing.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 25, 2020 at 19:04

      Hi Katarina and thanks for stopping by :-)
      I love vintage appliances too, especially those people used every day. It tells us a lot about those people. Mor ethan we normally give these ‘humble’ things credit for.

  • Aena Burg
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 03:44

    Interesting article. I have no idea when useful kitchen appliances invented. Apart from that, I didn’t see when cooker invented? Please share that information as well.

  • Aircentra
    Posted August 27, 2020 at 01:29

    Great articles with wonderful videos.
    Technology has really improved over the years and it has made our lives much easier.

    I hate to do laundries, but with the invention of the washing machine, I find it so easy

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted August 27, 2020 at 08:06

      That’s true. And what fascinates me about the 1920s (in general, not just reguarding appliances) is that so many things we now take for granted first appeared in people’s life.
      It’s exciting thinking as how it might have been the first time women started using the electric iron, for example, and they no longer needed to stand beside a hot stove for hours.
      It makes you appreciate the more what we have.

  • Boby Bravo
    Posted December 21, 2020 at 00:48

    Thanks for sharing this great piece and the videos. I must say some of those early mod cons actually looked dangerous!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted December 21, 2020 at 16:29

      They do, don’t they? Though, to be fair, in the 1920s they were starting to become safe. I’ve heard things about the Victorian house fixtures to make your skin crowl.

      Thanks so much for stopping by :-)

  • Pie Fantasy
    Posted December 28, 2020 at 17:53

    I can’t image what women had to go through before all those appliances were invented. We should be reminded of how good we have it everyday.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted December 29, 2020 at 09:26

      True, eh? And in the Twenties, things were already going better. It was far harder in the past.

  • Rosaleen
    Posted April 18, 2022 at 22:47

    My mother was born 100 years ago, my grandmother 130. Granny had a meat safe in the backyard and a mangle, my mother had an Aga which was great and spoilt us for any ordinary cooker. I didn’t get my first washing machine until I was pregnant with my second child. I always found the washing heavy going.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 18, 2022 at 23:04

      I remember when the colour TV was a wonder. That’s as far back as I can go. LOL!

  • mbarkhoski
    Posted October 5, 2022 at 23:18

    Its really amazing because there is one electric Iron in my house that used my grandmother and still it works. After reading this article I got remembered about it.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted October 6, 2022 at 08:28

      I have one of those irones that you would heat on the stove. I don’t even know who it belonged to. My mother gave it to me.
      Don’t you find it amazing when these little pieces of history get into our lives? :-)

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