Chart of the Day: Household Appliances V. Household Work

Something fun to think about (via the World Economic Forum), the relationship between electricity, appliances, and household work.

Here’s the chart:

chart US household work appliances


Here’s how the authors describe the impacts of these technologies, in their report:

Arguably, one of the most disruptive technologies of the last century is the refrigerator. In the 1920s, only about a third of households reported having a washer or a vacuum, and refrigerators were even rarer. But just 20 years later, refrigerator ownership was common, with more than two-thirds of Americans owning a refrigerator.

As Helen Veit wrote in a recent piece in The Atlantic, that surge in refrigerator ownership totally changed the way that Americans cooked. As Veit writes, “…before reliable refrigeration, cooking and food preservation were barely distinguishable tasks.” Techniques like pickling, smoking and canning were common in nearly every American kitchen.

With the arrival of the icebox and then the electric refrigerator, foods could now be kept and consumed in the same form for days. Americans no longer had to make and consume great quantities of cheese, whiskey and hard cider — some of the only ways to keep foods edible through the winter. “A whole arsenal of home preservation techniques, from cheese-making to meat-smoking to egg-pickling to ketchup-making, receded from daily use within a single generation,” writes Veit.

So much of our urban infrastructure is connected to the habits and patterns of everyday life, without which we’d spend much more time toiling.

3 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Household Appliances V. Household Work

    1. Tom L

      The chart is very misleading: note that it’s of *electrical* appliances, whereas some of these appliances are more commonly gas-fired. It’s not that most Americans don’t have a water heater or a dryer, it’s that their water heater and dryer are gas-operated. By contrast, there isn’t a huge market for gas-fired microwaves – so it looks like microwaves are more common. They aren’t.

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