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  Chapter Five:


  Household Size
  Housing Starts
  Home Ownership
  Machines in the Home
  Automobiles and TVs
  Mobility and Migration


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Machines in the Home

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American homes were extensively mechanized.
The typical American home of 1900 did not use much more mechanical energy than the home of 1800 or even 1700. The occupants cooked and heated with iron stoves instead of open fireplaces. They read by the light of kerosene mantles or gas jets rather than candles or whale oil lamps. They used foot-powered sewing machines, which augmented the handheld needle and thread. The domestic lives of most Americans had changed very little by 1900. 

In their landmark study of Middletown (Muncie, Indiana), a community whose residents enjoyed better-than-average household amenities, Robert and Helen Lynd noted that in 1890, “only about one family in six or eight had even the crudest running water—a hydrant in the yard or a faucet at the iron kitchen sink…. By 1890, there were not two dozen complete bathrooms in the city.” Central heating was virtually unknown. 

Between 1900 and 1950, however, a variety of conveniences brought spectacular improvements to the nation’s private homes. During this time, the occupants of nearly all private homes acquired electrical service, complete bathrooms, refrigerators, central heating, and washing machines, along with vacuum cleaners, toasters, phonographs, telephones, and radios. Mechanization continued apace during the second half of the century as water heaters, color televisions, microwave ovens, and clothes dryers became standard household equipment. Tens of millions of families installed swimming pools, home freezers, personal computers, water softeners, whirlpool baths, and other technologically advanced conveniences. Air conditioning became standard, particularly in the South and Southwest, where it fostered both population and economic growth. Among its many effects, domestic mechanization greatly lightened the routines of housework, thereby enabling married women to seek work outside of their homes.

Chapter 5 chart 4

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

SA 1959, tables 1110 and 1134; SA 1997, tables 1197 and 1207; and SA 1999, table 1428. See also Middletown I, pages 96–98.


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