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Household Appliances Timeline


The technologies that created the 20th century's laborsaving household devices owe a huge debt to electrification, which brought light and power into the home. Then two major engineering innovations—resistance heating and small, efficient motors—led to electric stoves and irons, vacuum cleaners, washers, dryers, and dishwashers. In the second half of the century advances in electronics yielded appliances that could be set on timers and even programmed, further reducing the domestic workload by allowing washing and cooking to go on without the presence of the human launderer or cook.

  1901   Engine-powered vacuum cleaner

British civil engineer H. Cecil Booth patents a vacuum cleaner powered by an engine and mounted on a horse-drawn cart. Teams of operators would reel the hoses into buildings to be cleaned.

  1903   Lightweight electric iron introduced

Earl Richardson of Ontario, California, introduces the lightweight electric iron. After complaints from customers that it overheated in the center, Richardson makes an iron with more heat in the point, useful for pressing around buttonholes and ruffles. Soon his customers are clamoring for the "iron with the hot point"—and in 1905 Richardson’s trademark iron is born.

  1905   Electric filaments improved

Engineer Albert Marsh patents the nickel and chromium alloy nichrome, used to make electric filaments that can heat up quickly without burning out. The advent of nichrome paves the way, 4 years later, for the first electric toaster.

  1907   First practical domestic vacuum cleaner

James Spangler, a janitor at an Ohio department store who suffers from asthma, invents his "electric suction-sweeper," the first practical domestic vacuum cleaner. It employs an electric fan to generate suction, rotating brushes to loosen dirt, a pillowcase for a filter, and a broomstick for a handle. Unsuccessful with his heavy, clumsy invention, Spangler sells the rights the following year to a relative, William Hoover, whose redesign of the appliance coincides with the development of the small, high-speed universal motor, in which the same current (either AC or DC) passes through the appliance’s rotor and stator. This gives the vacuum cleaner more horsepower, higher airflow and suction, better engine cooling, and more portability than was possible with the larger, heavier induction motor. And the rest, as they say, is history.

  1909   First commercially successful electric toaster

Frank Shailor of General Electric files a patent application for the D-12, the first commercially successful electric toaster. The D-12 has a single heating element and no exterior casing. It has no working parts, no controls, and no sensors; a slice of bread must be turned by hand to toast on both sides.

  1913   First refrigerator for home use

Fred W. Wolf of Fort Wayne, Indiana, invents the first refrigerator for home use, a small unit mounted on top of an old-fashioned icebox and requiring external plumbing connections. Only in 1925 would a hermetically sealed standalone home refrigerator of the modern type, based on pre-1900 work by Marcel Audiffren of France and by self-trained machinist Christian Steenstrup of Schenectady, New York, be commercially introduced. This and other early models use toxic gases such as methyl chloride and sulfur dioxide as refrigerants. On units not hermetically sealed, leaks—and resulting explosions and poisonings—are not uncommon, but the gas danger ends in 1929 with the advent of Freon-operated compressor refrigerators for home kitchens.

  1913   First electric dishwasher on the market

The Walker brothers of Philadelphia produce the first electric dishwasher to go on the market, with full-scale commercialization by Hotpoint and others in 1930.

  1915   Calrod developed

Charles C. Abbot of General Electric develops an electrically insulating, heat conducting ceramic "Calrod" that is still used in many electrical household appliances as well as in industry.

  1919   First automatic pop-up toaster

Charles Strite’s first automatic pop-up toaster uses a clockwork mechanism to time the toasting process, shut off the heating element when the bread is done, and release the slice with a pop-up spring. The invention finally reaches the marketplace in 1926 under the name Toastmaster.

  1927   First iron with an adjustable temperature control

The Silex Company introduces the first iron with an adjustable temperature control. The thermostat, devised by Joseph Myers, is made of pure silver.

  1927   First garbage disposal

John W. Hammes, a Racine, Wisconsin, architect, develops the first garbage disposal in his basement because he wants to make kitchen cleanup work easier for his wife. Nicknamed the "electric pig" when first introduced by the Emerson Electric Company, the appliance operates on the principle of centrifugal force to pulverize food waste against a stationary grind ring so it would easily flush down the drain.

  1930s (Mid)   Washing machine to wash, rinse, and extract water from clothes

John W. Chamberlain of Bendix Corporation invents a device that enables a washing machine to wash, rinse, and extract water from clothes in a single operation. This eliminates the need for cumbersome and often dangerous powered wringer rolls atop the machine.

  1935   First clothes dryer

To spare his mother having to hang wet laundry outside in the brutal North Dakota winter, J. Ross Moore builds an oil-heated drum in a shed next to his house, thereby creating the first clothes dryer. Moore’s first patented dryers run on either gas or electricity, but he is forced to sell the design to the Hamilton Manufacturing Company the following year because of financial difficulties.

  1945   Magnetron discovered to melt candy, pop corn, and cook an egg

Raytheon Corporation engineer Percy L. Spencer’s realization that the vacuum tube, or magnetron, he is testing can melt candy, pop corn, and cook an egg leads to the first microwave oven. Raytheon’s first model, in 1947, stands 5.5 feet tall, weighs more than 750 pounds, and sells for $5,000. It is quickly superseded by the equally gigantic but slightly less expensive Radarange; easily affordable countertop models are not marketed until 1967.

  1947   First top-loading automatic washer

The Nineteen Hundred Corporation introduces the first top-loading automatic washer, which Sears markets under the Kenmore label. Billed as a "suds saver," the round appliance sells for $239.95.

  1952   First automatic coffeepot

Russell Hobbs invents the CP1, the first automatic coffeepot as well as the first of what would become a successful line of appliances. The percolator regulates the strength of the coffee according to taste and has a green warning light and bimetallic strip that automatically cuts out when the coffee is perked.

  1962   Spray mist added to iron

Sunbeam ushers in a new era in iron technology by adding "spray mist" to the steam and dry functions of its S-5A model. The S-5A is itself an upgrade of the popular S-4 steam or dry iron that debuted in 1954.

  1963   GE introduces the self-cleaning oven

General Electric introduces the self-cleaning electric oven and in 1967 the first electronic oven control—beginning the revolution that would see microprocessors incorporated into household appliances of all sorts.

  1972   First percolator with an automatic drip process

Sunbeam develops the Mr. Coffee, the first percolator with an automatic drip process as well as an automatic cut-off control that lessens the danger of over-brewing. Mr. Coffee quickly becomes the country’s leading coffeemaker.

  1978   First electronic sewing machine

Singer introduces the Athena 2000, the world’s first electronic sewing machine. A wide variety of stitches, from basic straight to complicated decorative, are available at the touch of a button. The "brain" of the system is a chip that measures less than one-quarter of an inch and contains more than 8,000 transistors.

  1990s   Environmentally friendly washers and dryers

Environmentally friendly washers and dryers that save water and conserve energy are introduced. They include the horizontal-axis washer, which tumbles rather than agitates the clothes and uses a smaller amount of water, and a dryer with sensors, rather than a timer, that shuts the appliance off when the clothes are dry.

  1997   First prototype of a robotic vacuum cleaner

Swedish appliance company Electrolux presents the first prototype of a robotic vacuum cleaner. The device, billed as "the world’s first true domestic robot," sends and receives high-frequency ultrasound to negotiate its way around a room, much as bats do. In the production model, launched in Sweden a few years later, eight microphones receive and measure the returning signals to give the vacuum an accurate picture of the room. It calculates the size of a room by following around the walls for 90 seconds to 15 minutes, after which it begins a zigzag cleaning pattern and turns itself off when finished.


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     Essay - Roland W. Schmitt

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