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Part III: Cycling Electricity to Buffalo (Section C)
By expanding the domestic market in the 1920s, electric companies could help offset the cost of urban electrification. Electric Companies ensured continued corporate income by convincing potential consumers that electricity and electrical appliances were necessary for modern living. Strategic advertising campaigns enticed consumers.
Sewing machines, printed paper patterns, and mass produced textiles enabled women to sew clothing, draperies, and decorative elements for the family and home. The Singer Company introduced installment buying to encourage women to acquire the latest model.
Electric washing machines, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, percolators,
Electric refrigeration was more reliable than previous cooling methods. It eliminated the need to shop daily and kept perishable foods fresh. Early refrigerators looked like ice boxes with a fan on top and sold for as much as six hundred dollars. In 1920 they were still practically unheard of, with not more than 10,000 in use throughout the country. Ten percent of American families owned one by 1930, but despite the Depression, fifty-six percent had purchased a refrigerator by 1940.
The Home Entertainment Center
Radio, powered by electricity, became a reliable source of information and entertainment. Programming strongly affected families and businesses, ultimately changing American culture. It was a harbinger of forms of communication to come.
Electricity and Health
Electricity was applied to health care devices. Weak, direct current from batteries was applied to the body to treat skin diseases, muscle ailments or disabilities. Low voltage electricity was also used to treat nervous diseases. Unfortunately, most of these gadgets did not deliver the benefits their promoters promised.
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See the changing techologies used in the home with this interactive image:
Growing demands for power resulted in shortages. The Burton Act limited the amount of water that could be taken from the Niagara River to generate power. Power companies needed to pool their resources. In 1915, the Cataract Power and Conduit Co. merged with General Electric of Buffalo forming the area's largest supplier of electricity.
Power shortages during peak times continue to tax our resources. We are reminded of our dependence upon electricity every time a black-out occurs such as the major one on November 9, 1965 that darkened the entire northeastern United States. For thirteen hours, 30 million people were without electric power!
From Niagara Power: History of the Niagara Falls Power Company
What does it all mean?
Try to imagine a world without electricity. It is nearly impossible. Electric power has a profound impact upon our lives. It is safe, easy, and convenient to use. The cost is relatively low compared with other items in our budgets.
The cost to our environment however, stimulates much debate. The challenge to meet increasing power demands and preserve the environment continues to trouble utility providers. Today's innovators and entrepreneurs look towards alternative means for generating electricity and alternative sources of power to share the burden.
End of Part III Section C
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