Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tankless Water Heaters in Carrie Hardy's 1919 Ypsilanti: War of the Utility Ads

Related to the ongoing serialization of Ypsilanti High School teacher Carrie Hardy's 1919 diary.

Electricity was still making inroads into Ypsilanti homes in 1919, and the Ypsilanti Gas Company didn't like it one bit. An unintentionally funny series of ads in the July Ypsilanti Daily Press, which Carrie Hardy probably read, shows the electric and gas factions trying to outdo each other in offering new, amazing appliances for the household.
First up is the Gas Company's amazing new tankless gas water heater. (!)

It is identical in concept and almost identical in design to Dusty D's own tankless gas water heater.

Dusty D was agog to discover this ad in the paper.

How did we forget the efficiency, in space and in energy cost, of tankless water heaters between 1919 and, oh, 2006, when they started getting popular again? Anyone know?

The electricity company countered by offering a revolutionary new electric washing machine. Just think--you could get ALL of your Monday wash done in a scant 2 hours! They spelled it out for you in case you, the housewife, could not comprehend this amazing fact. "8:00 a.m.--Electric Washer Busy. 9:00 a.m.--Washing on the Line. 10 a.m.--Dressed, off to Market." (Presumably one hung the washing in the backyard nude?) At any rate, this is identical to Dusty D's own washing regimen, so it's slightly dispiriting that things have not progressed since 1919.

The Detroit Edison Co. chimed in with another gambit for selling electric washers. They appealed to the housewife's apparent xenophobia in not wanting the family's clothes commingled with (euwww) other people's wash at the community laundry service, or "handled by people of questionable health." Why the health of laundry workers would be any more questionable than the health of housewives is an unanswered question, but, then as now, the appeal to sanitation (real or imagined) sold product.

The gas company countered with cooking demos employing its marvelous new Oven Heat Regulator.

This appears to be nothing more than an oven thermostat or temperature regulator, as is now standard on oven dials marked with temperatures.

But it seems to have been a novelty.

One infers that oven cooking was more or less guesswork, and that many dinners were mighty crispy, until these heat regulators came along.

Not deterred, the Washtenaw Electric Shop energetically offered to electrify every last doodad in your home, including vaccuums, grills, irons, and sewing and washing machines. It listed the many virtues attendant to these objects and pleaded, "If your home is not wired, an estimate will cost you nothing."

Neither company should have worried. This war of utilities eventually yielded no clear winner, with most of today's Ypsi homes, like Dusty D's, employing both natural gas (furnace, water heater, range) and electricity (igniter on aforementioned gas appliances, lights, wall outlets). But in Carrie's time, both competed to offer the newest, most innovative and labor-saving devices. Ypsilanti housewife early-adopters were freed from many of the difficulties of doing things the old way--freed for a price, of course. Hope you enjoyed these old ads as much as I do!


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