Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gadgets for the Home (1930s)

In his 1986 essay titled, "The Home of Tomorrow, 1927-1945," Brian Horrigan describes the shift of emphasis to gadgets inside the "house of tomorrow," rather than the homes themselves. The essay can be found in the book Imagining Tomorrow: History, Technology, and the American Future. An excerpt appears below.
Although, like the public at large, American corporations ultimately refuse to underwrite a future full of modernist mansions or mass-produced homes, they were attracted by a shinier side of the Home of Tomorrow coin: the house as a wonderland of gadgets. It is not surprising that the companies that associated themselves most readily with the Home of Tomorrow were the major manufacturers of electrical appliances. General Electric exhibited a "House of Magic" at most of the major fairs of the 1930s. Alleged to "walk and talk," the house was not really a separate structure but a gimmicky update on the department store "demo" home, a kind of stage set on which glamorous women were cast as housewives, running the household machinery and making a sales pitch. Westinghouse, not to be outdone, built an entire "Home of Tomorrow" in 1934 in Mansfield, Ohio. It was intended as a lived-in laboratory in which the company's engineers and their families would temporarily reside to test the equipment. This house, a tour de force of household electrification, was designed to attract attention, which it did quite effectively. Designed by architect Dwight James Baum, the house was a conventional wood-frame and stucco structure, only slightly odd in style - a sort of Regency-Cubist affair, employing virtually none of the already notoriously "futuristic" modern vocabulary. Indeed, architecture was quite beside the point, according to the Westinghouse engineer responsible for the house. "A new profession of 'house engineers,'" maintained Victor G. Vaughan, "will soon absorb all architectural functions except those of a purely aesthetic nature." The engineers had a field day with the Westinghouse prototype, providing a connected electric load equal to that of 30 average houses, "ready to do the work of 864 servants with the flip of a switch." Some of the features of the house were air conditioning, an electric garage-door opener, automatic sliding doors, an electric laundry, 21 separate kitchen appliances, burglar alarms, 140 electrical outlets, and 320 lights. All this was available, or so it was claimed for around $12,000. Westinghouse admitted that the price would probably place the house beyond the means of most families in the future, thus further removing this spectacular exercise from the democratic rhetoric of the prefabricators.

See also:
Monsanto House of the Future (1957-1967)
Computersville is almost here (1970)
Closer Than We Think! Robot Housemaid (1959)
Maid Without Tears (1978)
Living Room of the Future (1979)
The Future of Real Estate (1953)
Startling Changes in Housing in Year 2000 (Chicago Tribune, 1961)

1 comment:

Matt said...

Impressive, this one.
Slight overestimate on the number of electrical outlets and lights, but pretty spot-on otherwise.