Part III:
Cycling Electricity to Buffalo

Section B
Labor-Saving Devices?

Section C
A Proliferation

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Part III: Cycling Electricity to Buffalo (Section B)

Labor Saving Devices?

Electricity inspired a revolution on the domestic front that continues to impact our lives. So entwined have electrical devices become our modern existence that it is nearly impossible to imagine life without them. Numerous manually operated appliances were marketed before the 1920s, but the rapid electrification of urban areas during that decade was complemented by increases in the types and availability of electric appliances.

These 'electric servants' promised to make housework less strenuous and less time consuming. However, other conditions also materialized to counter the effect. In the 1920s, fewer families employed domestic servants and standards of cleanliness rose. While electric appliances often curtailed the physical labor required, the time women spent completing domestic tasks did not decrease.

Electric companies and appliance manufacturers utilized articles, women's magazines, and advertisements to persuade housewives to purchase and use their product.

 

The Iron

The iron was the first electric appliance to gain widespread use. By the 1920s, ninety-four percent of homes wired with electricity also had an electric iron. It relieved women of the hot work involved in continually heating heavy flatirons on the stove. Electric irons could be plugged in for a quick touch-up of a shirt or used for longer periods of ironing family linens.

American Beauty clothes iron
American Electrical Heater Co., Detroit, MI
1916 or later
Collection of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society

The American Beauty iron was introduced in 1912 by the American Electrical Heater Company. For many years it was considered to be the standard of excellence. The initial efforts to market household irons were primarily trying to convince the power companies to sell them as "load-builders" or current consumers


American Beauty Clothes Iron
American Electrical Heater Co, Detroit
1916 or later
Chereton Cordless Automatic Clothes Iron
EPCO Electrical Products Co, Detroit
no date

The Vacuum Cleaner

"The swiftness and ease of the work seem miraculous. The vacuum cleaner in a measure has done away with housecleaning."

Marian Harland, Zanesville, OH, 1871

Although vacuum-type pump cleaners were available in the nineteenth century, they were difficult to use. Most homemakers found carpet beating or a carpet sweeper preferable. Electric vacuum cleaners however did save a great deal of labor. They quickly became second to flatirons in appliance sales. By the mid-1920s, half of the homes with electricity also had an electric vacuum cleaner.

There were many types of vacuum cleaners pre-dating electric models. On the Leisure Cleaner, forward motion turned the pistons and forced air in and out of the canister.

Utility companies often used home economists to demonstrate how to operate new appliances.


Westinghouse Hand Vacuum Cleaner (no larger view)
Late 1940s. BECHS

 

The Washing Machine

As electric washing machines became more available the old adage "Monday is for washing" broke down. The daily expectation of clean clothes and the frequent changes of clothing soon made every day laundry day. Electric washers alleviated a portion of the back-breaking work. However, water still had to be heated, put into the tub and heavy, soaking wet clothing removed. The technology for the “spin cycle,” or use of centrifugal force to remove water, was not developed until the 1950s.

In 1892, Thomas Edison's electric company merged with Thompson-Houston to form General Electric. The merger combined two of the three large electrical equipment manufacturers, leaving Westinghouse Company independent.

 

1900 Cataract Washer
1916 or later. BECHS

 

Black & Decker Washing Machine Brochure

Electric Heaters

Electric heaters supplemented the central heating of homes during cold months. They were also used in spaces without other types of heating such as basements, garages, and work areas.

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Electric Fans

General Electric and Westinghouse were famous for all types of electric motors from small ones for fans to large ones for subway cars. Electric fans, popular before the days of air conditioning, continue to be used today. Fans and heaters gave homeowners, office workers, and others more control over their living and working environments.

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End of Part III Section B

Continue Part III Section C