Vintage Scan #11: Know the Joy of Better Cooking Electrically

"Cook better...live better electrically" proclaims this 1963 booklet by an electric company in Wisconsin.  I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful exuberance with which the wonders of electricity are hyped and sold in this publication (all images in this post are from this booklet). White America was at their economic peak - a life of opulence compared to 20 years prior, and the new suburban homes bought with the GI Bill were now being stocked with new fangled equipment which held great promise to the Atomic Age household. 

The memories of washboards and wood burning stoves were fresh for mom and dad.  Thus, appliances that we take for granted today like the washer and dryer, fridge, and electric stove seemed like something from The Jetsons.  Jetpacks and robot maids couldn't be far away.

What's striking to me is how little things have changed in the 47 years after this was published. Sure, we have microwaves - big fucking deal.  Everything else is basically the same, with unimpressive upgrades.  When you look at the incomprehensible progress from the 47 years prior to this booklet, the 47 years after seem all the more lackluster. 

For instance, in 1916, no one had a refrigerator (the first one was invented in 1911); you were lucky to have an icebox. By the time of this booklet, over sixty percent of homes had them.  In 2010, the only real noticeable difference is that they have automatic defrost and ice makers.

Maybe, just maybe, it's time for companies to start thinking "outside the box" once again, and concentrate less on upgrading appliances and more on inventing novel technologies.  In other words, I want my freaking jetpack! 


  1. There have been massive improvements in the efficiency of refrigerators, though. I have no idea what the power consumption of a 1911 fridge might have been, but considering how much things have improved even in the last twenty years, I am assuming early models were quite power-hungry. They also were made with less-than-ideal materials like lead and freon :)

    That being said, I'd like my jetpack too...

  2. AnonymousMay 26, 2010

    we babyboomers assume the post-war 50's and 60's prosperity was "normal"; and that there's been something wrong when our present circumstances seem less impressive than our parents' situations. In reality, the 50's were a time of unparalleled economic expansion. Our parents (the "greatest generation") didn't necessarily work harder: they were just born at the right time. One purchased a $15000 house on the GI bill and sold it a decade later for $85000. I've stopped feeling bad that I can't duplicate my parents' success.

  3. Like I said in the post, Erica, I'm not denying there's been upgrades: better efficiency, more environmentally friendly chemicals, etc.

    What I'm saying is there's not that drastic change experienced by the homeowners of the fifties.

    The same could be said for the automobile - the internal combustion engine is still the heart of the invention, and could use more than a makeover - we need a significant change.

    And to anonymous, all I can say is "ditto". The nation's economy has been punctuated by highs and lows - that generation was surfing the highest standard of living this country has ever experienced before or since..... Generation X, not so much.

  4. That's right guys, we aren't responsible for our own fates, when other people do better than us, it's just because they are lucky.

  5. My first thought at looking at the first picture was, "That's no different than a modern kitchen." Then you go on and say the same thing!

  6. Mporcius- do you think people of the great depression... or people living in Somalia were and are just lazy? You know it is possible to be affected by the economic climate you find yourself in.

  7. HA! I must be in retrograde-my fridge doesn't even make icecubes for me! And even my icecube trays are devolving--when I was a kid we had cool metal ones with a lever handle to break them apart for us-now I've got crappy plastic ones that require kneading to break them open, and the cubes are often just mangled shards of ice!

  8. I think Mporcius and Gilligan both have a point.

    For one, it would be ridiculous to ignore the fact that different folks (from different countries or generations) start out with different resources. If one person is given bricks, and another is given straw, and both are told to make a house...who is probably going to wind up with the sturdier house?

    But, given that inescapable fact, if you're given straw, isn't it still your job to make the best straw house you can? Yes.

    For readers like mporcius, a simple recognition that a previous generation had it "better" may sound like whining or willingness to abdicate responsibility.

    And readers of mporcius' comment may take it as a deliberate blindness to facts, when all s/he wants is some cred for those who have rallied against circumstances.

  9. You make it sound like there haven't been any important changes since 1963. In 1963, nobody had a computer in their house, nobody had a cell phone, nobody had access to an ATM machine, very few had credit cards (and those were just for a single department store), nobody had satellite dishes on their house, and nobody had iPods (or any portable music device beyond a transistor radio). Most of these things have been around for awhile but the marvels of that 1963 kitchen had been around for awhile.

  10. Gilligan,
    I agree with you about this 'When you look at the incomprehensible progress from the 47 years prior to this booklet, the 47 years after seem all the more lackluster. ' at the same time I have to disagree when you think of things that we've seen evolving that we don't even think about. I'm 41 next month and growing up I've experienced the following (as has everyone of my generation I would assume): Typing school papers on typewriters & seeing a home computer as common as a telephone in every home; tests handed out still 'hot & smelling of alcohol' from mimeograph machines to xerox copies; cell phones (remember those 1980's 'car' phones with the cord?')...how about having to wait an entire year to watch a holiday special because there were no VCR's, DVD players, Netflix, Blockbuster, Cable TV.... what have you etc...although not in the same category as refrigerators, stoves and even flushing toilets in every home, the computer age & technology itself is something that makes my head spin. The fact that only 25 years ago these modern conveniences did not exist to everyone makes me wonder what the future has in store. I don't agree that everything is an improvement. I purposely made sure my 8 year old twins know what a record player & records are (yes we have a vast collection & a huge Telefunken console); We purchased a tape recorder to 'record' our voices the old fashioned way; and they know what film cameras are and what photographs look like that are not 'digital'. They were watching some old Electric Company shows and wanted to know what a phone booth/public phone was. It was only when we went looking for one in town I realized most of them were gone. I don't think you can find an actual 'booth' in too many places. What would Superman do now?

  11. I certainly didn't mean to say there's been no revolutionary technologies invented. In the palm of my hand (I have a Droid), I can watch movies, check my GPS, record digital videos, listen to radio stations from around the globe, etc., etc.... the technology breakthroughs in the past couple of decades have been insane and beyond comprehension.

    I was mainly talking about the home: my washer, dryer, fridge, stove, dishwasher, etc. are a far cry from the Jetsons. My car hasn't changed that much either. Communications have been revolutionized; but most everything else wouldn't exactly shock a 1950s person transplanted in 2010.

    Can you imagine showing this transplanted 50s person around? How unimpressed he'd be by advancements in the kitchen. "Look, Ward. It makes ice cubes... and defrosts itself!" Ward would be bored by the power steering and automatic transmission. What would impress him would be the communciations - the phones, the satellites, the televisions, the internet, etc.

    I hope this clears it up a little.