Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Slow March of Electrical Appliances in Ypsilanti

Dusty D was surprised to see this 1956 Ypsilanti Daily Press ad for an electric clothes dryer. It made me remember how slowly it took Ypsilanti to adopt electricity and how strenuously the electricity company advertised its service and wares. Quick recap of when ads for various electrical doodads appeared in the local papers:

1907: "A Mistaken Idea about Electric Light" ad; also, demos of electric stove.

1919: Various ads pleading with Ypsilantians to have their houses wired, then buy: electric washing machine, grill, iron, sewing machine, toasters, "cleaner."

1933: Bonus ad, at right, to try the new electric stoves with a "free" trial. (Yes, they had started demonstrating these in town in 1907!!)

But it's not till 1956 that the ad for an electric dryer comes along. This can't be because the technology was difficult--if anything, it seems simpler to me. A spinny thing and a hot air thing, right? And lint trap. So why didn't the electric companies dream this up and create a need for it sooner? My guess would be that hanging wash outside is really less of a problem than the problems solved by the earlier appliances.

Do wonder though: why were Ypsilantians so slllloooowwwww to adopt electric STOVES in particular? Seems like a trivial question...but as James Mann says, "The history is in the footnotes."


jml said...

I can speculate on several reasons for resistance to electric stoves:

1. The wood/coal stove is also a heater. Would it have been the only source of heat for some homes? Would that imply the need to install some other form of heater - a big expense!

2. The ad is certainly fighting the perception that electric cooking is expensive. Was coal or wood that much cheaper per BTU than electricity?

3. Inertia - both cultural and literal. Those cast iron stoves were big, and somebody had to move them...

Anonymous said...

Fun with numbers: the ad says that a laundry basket used to cost about $2.50 in 1956. That's $19.47 in today's dollars. A quick check online finds laundry hampers from about $10 up to $30, so apparently laundry hamper prices increase roughly according to inflation.

Today, it costs about $0.30 to dry a load of clothes with an electric dryer. That means you could dry about 65 loads for the $19.47 given above. So, electricity must be cheaper these days than it used to be (assuming dryer efficiencies haven't changed much--they probably have increased a little bit, but not much).

Dusty D said...

Anonymous: Ooh, that's just the sort of economic info I enjoy! It makes sense that electricity is cheaper now, due to economies of scale and more efficient wiring, &c. Neato.

Dusty D said...

jml: I bet it WAS the only source of heat for many homes. Our gas stove certainly makes a big difference in our (old, drafty) home in winter. Good point!

Yes, I agree...I've seen several ads that in effect say, "Electricity is not more expensive--really! No, really!" They protest a bit too much--I'd love to know if coal/wood was cheaper per BTU. I bet they were.

Inertia is another good suggestion.

I also realized that the stove would represent one of the hugest and more expensive appliances in most homes, and people would naturally try to use it as long as possible. I also think the standard of living was lower, by and large, than today--so, even less money to lavish on a new stove "when our old one works just fine."

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