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Part III: Cycling Electricity to Buffalo (Section B)
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.
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.
The Vacuum Cleaner
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.
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.
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.
End of Part III Section B