The beginnings of a DIY movement can be traced back to the spate of How To… and Know How… books and pamphlets published in the 1890s.
Ordinary people wanted to know more about DIY
These guided ordinary people through the complexities of modern living. A later influence was the activities of groups of people with specialised interests, sometimes at work, but more likely for leisure. These included amateur radio constructors, car mechanics, model makers, home fretwork craftsmen, hobbyist woodworkers and, probably the most important, home handicraft workers. The ‘handicrafts’ phenomenon, both before and after the Second World War, was absolutely massive. It was a silent, unsung industry – the ‘profit with pleasure’ culture where families could supplement their income by making handicrafts in their free time in their own homes.
Working as their own boss and at their own pace, handicrafts gave many people valuable practical experience of doing things. It would not prove that big a step from doing handicrafts in the home to working on the home itself.
Rapid social and economic change after the Second World War propelled the DIY movement forward. Peacetime left hundreds of small firms with ‘metal-bashing’ facilities casting around for new markets. Many turned to making DIY products. Other companies capitalised on war-time advances in plastics and adhesives, transforming them into commercial products for DIYers in the 1950s and 1960s. As well as new plastics, glues and adhesives, other items such as new paints, fillers, floor, wall and other surface finishes also appeared.
The public were increasingly being exposed to all these wonderful things through exhibitions, DIY magazines and the full force of television.
Ordinary people wanted to know more about DIY because they would have to do the work themselves. Servants were gone, tradesmen were expensive, home ownership was rising and the housing stock decaying. Fortunately, the Government assisted by offering generous home improvement grants.
Tool manufacturers, such as Black & Decker, Wolf, Bridges, and Stanley, sensing this major shift in users, started to provide ranges of power tools for DIY enthusiasts, a potentially enormous market in comparison to the professional trade. The electric drill became the premier work tool for most DIYers in the late 1950s and 1960s, rivalled only by the famous ‘Workmate’ work bench from the 1970s.
Demand for DIY products forced a revolution in national distribution and retailing of products and services. The traditional ironmongers and builders merchants yielded to the rise of the DIY superstore. The concept of a DIY supermarket was born in Southampton in 1969 when B&Q, Britain’s current market leader, opened a 3,000 square-foot store.
During the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the sale of council houses and the rise in house prices added further fuel to the DIY fever. Money was easy to borrow, especially for home improvements. In 1987, £9 billion, twice the annual earnings of UK tourism, was spent on DIY, and 15 per cent of all building materials were customised and sold through the DIY superstores. In 2001, Britons spent a record £23 billion on DIY, the equivalent of £900 per household.
Globalisation of the DIY revolution is encapsulated in the philosophy of IKEA: the Holy Grail of DIY, and founder of mass-produced flat-pack furniture. IKEA is the largest furniture retailer in the world, and its catalogue, of which 110 million copies are produced each year, is more widely distributed than any other book!