Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, electricity
was becoming more and more common in American homes. How was electricity making the American
home different? What type of impact did it have on society?
Electricity had existed for many years, but it was expensive for individual families to
have in their homes. It had also been a difficult transition because most homes and buildings
had not been designed with electrical wiring in mind. However, by the late 1910s, some
of these obstacles were being overcome. The introduction of electricity had a dramatic
impact on daily life. The most obvious impact was the use of electric lighting. Lamps were
considerably brighter than candles or lanterns, which helped improve eyesight. Also, as electric
lighting became more available, it eventually proved to be much less expensive than the
oil or gas used to light lanterns. It was also cleaner than other forms of lighting
because there was no soot or smoke filling the air. The number of house fires dropped
significantly because there were no longer as many open flames in people’s homes.
Manufacturers began introducing a number of appliances and other devices that used electricity.
Most of these devices were intended to make life easier. For example, electric vacuum
cleaners, irons, stoves, and washing machines all reduced the amount of time the average
family used to perform daily tasks. Homes and clothing also became cleaner as a result.
Tea kettles, toasters, waffle irons, and many other devices also started showing up in many
kitchens. Radios and phonographs provided a new form of entertainment as well.
Electric refrigerators also had a profound effect on day-to-day life. These were a vast
improvement over wooden ice boxes. Food could be purchased and stored for longer periods
of time. It also made food safer to eat because refrigerated food did not grow bacteria as
fast. Additionally, grocery stores and markets could offer a wider variety of foods. Produce
such as fresh fruit and vegetables could be available year-round, rather than just when
these items were in season. Electricity resulted in other changes as well.
The structure of architecture began to change. Natural lighting was no longer necessary as
a light source. This allowed windows to become a convenience rather than a necessity. Buildings
could also become taller because electric-powered elevators allowed for quicker travel to the
upper levels. It was many years before every community would
become electrified. Rural communities in the South would not receive electricity until
the late 1930s. However, for most Americans, electricity became an affordable reality.
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