Marvels at the Turn of the Century
The Pan-American Exposition allowed vendors and manufactures of housewares to demonstrate their products to a relatively new group of consumers-- housewifes. 1901 advertisements targeted those women longing for gadgets and appliances that would ease the most laborious of their chores--meal preparation. Furthermore they claimed that the husband who truly cared about his wife and her role in the household "owed" it to her to provide a kitchen full of every modern convenience. Indeed, the period between 1870 and 1900 was a time of prolific development of home appliances and time saving machinery. Surely, the Exposition's Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building was full of men and women crowded around company booths to gaze at the latest cookstoves and refridgerators, not to mention the myriad of small gadgets that the "modern" housewife "could not possibly live without."
Although the technology of mechanical refrigeration had been under development since the mid 19th century, by 1890, the use of refridgerators was confined to the restaurant and food production industries, especially brewing, dairy and meat-packing. The typical homeowner could not afford such a refridgerator and, given the technology of the period, would probably not have wanted one in the kitchen, since early mechanical refrigerators used toxic gases as refrigerants. (Freon would not come into use until 1928.) Interestingly, advertisements of the turn-of-the century period used the term "refigerator" rather loosely. In looking at diagram leading off the "refigerator section" of the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalog2 (see below), one can see that the superior quality "refrigerator" was actually what we today refer to as an "ice box."
By the 1850's, wood and coal-burning cookstoves were in widespread use throughout the United States. As Ellen Plante points out, "... the introduction of the stove brought technology into the kitchen and as the century progressed, a continuous stream of updated and unproved appliances became available, leading to the eventual development of the coal/oil and gas stoves of the late 1800's."3
By 1901, consumers could purchase stoves heated by coal/wood, gasoline, or oil. There were also combination coal/oil, and coal/gas stoves. While oil and gas stoves tended to be smaller and cheaper to operate, safety features for this new technology were not well developed. A perusal of newspapers of the 1890 to 1910 period will show many fires, injuries and deaths attributed to exploding oil or gas cookstoves. This certainly contributed to the fact that coal/wood stoves were still the dominant cooking appliance at the turn of the century.
The late 19th century was a lucrative period of development for the household gadget. In their respective books, Earl Lifshey4 and Ellen M. Plante both talk of the development of timesaving inventions like the apple slicer, apple peeler, poppyseed grinder and beer shaver. Also mentioned are lemon squeezers, nutcrackers, raisin seeders, graters of many sizes, sausage stuffers, bean slicers, spice mills, and bread dough mixers.
Household appliance and gadget makers advertised their wares in women's magazines like Ladie's Home Journal and Harpers Bazar. These periodical publications had numerous columns categorized as "domestic journalisms," providing "helpful hints for housekeepers." However, most had traditionally emphasized cooking and sewing. As the introduction of new household tools exploded in the late 1800's editors expanded these columns to include introduction and evaluation of these new gadgets. The review at right was part of one such column "The Practical Housekeeper," and appeared in the July 1885 Ladie's Home Journal.
In the July 1899
issue of the Ladies's Home Journal, the editor noted a new column,
"Miss Maria Parloa's New Department: Household Helps and New Ideas."
The editor's note stated, "Miss Parloa begins, in this issue, a
new department devoted entirely to the household (other than cooking)...."
By that, he must have been referring to the "techniques" of
cooking for there was no lack of kitchen-related discussion in this
column. Instead of printing recipes or instructing readers in "how
to cook," however, "Miss Parloa" wrote of those gadgets
designed to make the labors of cooking easier. In this first column
alone, she enlightened housekeepers to the benefits of the fruit pricker,
strawberry huller, knife sharpener, cherry stoner and a charcoal broiler
among other domestic tools. One can assume that manufacturers of the
day would have appreciated Miss Parloa's "seal of approval."
Of course one must also consider the extent to which "Miss Parloa"
and other "domestic journalists" may have been influenced
by those manufacturers who were also advertisers in the parent publications.
In addition to exposing their products through traditional advertizing in newspapers and women's magazines companies exhibited their gadgets and appliances at large gatherings like the Pan-American Exposition. 1901 was certainly a time when business in such products would be a lucrative one, and an exhibit at the world's fair at Buffalo would expose products to hundreds of thousands of potential consumers. Advertisments in national publications included phrases such as "come see our exhibit at the Pan-Am." If visitors did not have time to visit the booths to see the demonstrations, they were often exposed to these new household products through the literature, trade cards and pamphlets distributed by the thousands in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building.
One example of this is The Enterprising Housekeeper.5 The Enterprise Manufacturing Company's Pan-American Exposition exhibit displayed gadgets designed to make work in the kitchen easier for the woman of the house. In a recipe booklet distributed at the fair, the company professed the importance of "saving a woman's time... the well-fitted kitchen represents the engine-room of the home, where energy, health, and happiness are manufactured."
While promoted as a free cookbook full of recipes, it is clear that the Enterprising Housekeeper's primary function was to "sell" the company's many products. See Cookbooks for more on the contents of the Enterprising Housekeeper.
The domestic use of aluminum had it's beginnings in the cookware industry. Prior to mid-19th century, cookware was made of tin or cast iron. While the first porcelain enameled cooking utensils were made in America by Jacob J. Vollrath in 1874,6 there was a certain danger associated with them since inferior quality products were often treated with enamel containing poisonous metals. Instances of poisoning must have been prominent enough that manufacturers like Lalance & Grosjean felt the need to profess the safety of their products in advertisements. [see the ad at right.] In the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalog, one of the more prominent selling points was that their cookware was produced with enamel that was "entirely free from lead, arsenic and antimony, metals so often used in enamels of this appearance."7
The first stamped and cast aluminum cookware was manufactured by the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (ALCOA) in 1892. Prior to Charles Martin Hall's discovering the secret of producing aluminum inexpensively, utensils made of this metal were reserved only for the wealthy. Indeed, Lifshey tells of Napoleon serving his guests on aluminum plates since they were more expensive than gold.8 However, Hall's process and the considerably cheaper production costs of its Niagara Falls plant made the Pittsburgh Reduction Company the likely leader in aluminum cookware production. By 1900, this lightweight, low-maintenance cookware was regularly available to consumers. [For more information on the Pittsburgh Reduction Company and Niagara Falls, see Electrochemical Comapnies at Niagara.]
There was, however, considerable resistance to cookware and utensils made from this "new" metal. First, aluminum ware was still significantly higher priced than tinware. A coffee pot in the Sears Roebuck Catalog listed for 21 cents while a comparable one made of aluminum sold for $1.60.9 Most surprising however, is Lifshey's observation with regard to aluminum cookware: "...unaccustomed to utensils of such unusually light weight, women were inclined to regard them with suspicion."10 Consider this observation in the context of the technological wonders exhibited at the Pan-American Exposition and there is a certain degree of irony. It is hard for one to imagine that in 1901, a visitor to the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building might look with disdain upon the aluminum cookware exhibited among the other technological marvels at the fair. Why? Because the product was too good?
Indeed, it would take another 50 years of refinement and intense marketing for aluminum cookware to gain it's present popularity.
Ellen M. Plante, The American Kitchen, 1700 to the Present: From Hearth
to Highrise (New York: Facts on File, 1995), p. 145.