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Topic section: Mechanisation of household tasks
Mechanisation of household tasks
It may come as a surprise to learn that most of the modern appliances we have in our homes today were invented before 1945. Very few people used them when they first appeared, however, because they were considered to be luxury items. This was a time when most people used gas for cooking, water heating and even lighting, but after 1945 electricity became the ‘clean and efficient’ power for most household appliances.
The hostess trolley in particular could both delight and entrap

Certain convenience appliances such as vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and freezers helped to raise standards of cleanliness or family health while others, such as the hostess trolley, were merely status symbols.
Picture: 02_1983-5236_DHA7032.jpg
Surrounded by modern appliances operated at the touch of a button, this housewife can sit back and relax with a cup of tea. Ink and crayon cartoon from the Daily Herald newspaper, 1956.
Credit: NMPFT/Daily Herald Archive

Post-war homes had smaller rooms than before, which was just as well as most people could not afford servants to do the housework. Unfortunately, this job fell to the ‘lady of the house’. However, more women than ever were going out to work, and some were spending their income on appliances that made housework easier – and freed up more time for paid work.

Advertisements for modern appliances were designed to promote feelings of guilt among women – and often succeeded. By letting themselves down, the ads warned, women would let the cleanliness and comfort of the family home suffer. Sadly, some housewives soon discovered that new appliances often brought new pressures. The hostess trolley in particular could both delight and entrap.

Manufacturers had their own problems. The take-up of electric refrigerators was sluggish because they were perceived as unnecessary luxuries.

Another potent idea was that electricity, embodied in the appliance, was up-to-date and ‘modern’. It was promoted as the best way of doing things.

The scientifically planned kitchen, advocated by many social and economic thinkers before the war, emerged after the war in a diluted form as the ‘fitted kitchen’.
Picture: 02_034.jpg
Poster advertising Black & Decker electric floor polisher.
Credit: © Black and Decker Ltd

In the living room and dining room the point of family focus had been transferred from the homely hearth to, at first, the radio, then later the television. But lifestyle changes now made the kitchen the family focal point of the whole house.

Has the mechanisation of household tasks reduced the amount of housework done or the time spent doing it? Probably not. Domestic appliances introduced between 1930 and 1980 raised the acceptable standards of housework without actually reducing the amount of work done. However, as a nation we appear to be making a conscious choice to do less housework than before. This may be due to a change in priorities, with many people putting other activities before housework, but may equally be a consequence of having the longest working week of any country in Europe.
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Topic section: The Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition
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Since 1908, the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition has shaped our aspirations for our living places. During the 1950s, it played an important role in the post-war recovery.  > more

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Topic section: The DIY Revolution
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The DIY revolution of the 1950s and 1960s was a result of rapid social and economic change. Shortage of skilled labour and a decaying housing stock forced people to do their own renovations and decoration  > more
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