There are some kitchen appliances that few homes these days go without. But you might be surprised how long ago some first moved in.
I will admit that I have been thinking a lot about major kitchen appliances over the past month. Two of mine — two essential kitchen appliances — stopped working properly at the end of August. I have battled with a home warranty company on both since then, only to learn a week ago that they wouldn’t cover replacement for one of them. The other, one of the most necessary appliances you’ll find in any kitchen, is still not working and the home warranty company’s plans still remain a mystery.
While I wait for word on that, I figured I’d take a look at the most common kitchen appliances. I also decided to find out how long ago they became commonplace.
Can you imagine living without a refrigerator in your home? I admit it would be hard for me to imagine if it weren’t for the fact that it was my refrigerator-freezer that stopped working properly in August. Since then, I’ve had to rely on a small micro-fridge — the kind you’d see in dormitories.
But as hard as it may be to believe, it wasn’t until 1913 that the first electric home refrigerator was invented. Mass production of refrigerators began in 1918. But it wasn’t until the late 1920s that it really began to become commonplace in U.S. homes, according to appliance manufacturer Whirlpool.
I saw a fantastic documentary series called The Food that Built America that tells the story of popular foods and brands. The first episode tells the stories of food innovators like Milton Hershey, Will Kellogg and Henry Heinz.
It’s Heinz’s story, however, that includes disturbing details about the horrible condition of food in the days before refrigeration. Americans bought meat that was either already spoiled or going bad. A fish sauce called catsup was commonly used to mask the taste of tainted meat. Catsup, at the time, was traditionally made from celery or walnuts. Heinz perfected his ketchup as a tomato-based sauce.
It caught on and made him rich.
Fortunately, generations have been able to store groceries in refrigerators and freezers so food wouldn’t go bad and have to be masked under sauces!
The first freezer compartments started arriving in the 1940s.
Every home has a stove of some kind. Some cooks argue over which is better: an electric or a gas stove. I choose electric; the notion of a gas stove scares me. A friend of mine was cooking with a gas stove years ago and somehow didn’t realize that the burner didn’t properly ignite at first. When it did, a stream of flame shot up her shoulder and singed her hair. Ever since then, a gas stove has been of no interest to me!
The earliest humans figured out how to cook with fire. In more modern times, wood-burning stoves came first. While the first metal wood-burning stove dates back to the 16th century, they didn’t become popular in homes until the Industrial Revolution 200 years later.
In the 1920s, gas stoves began replacing wood and coal-fired stoves. The Hancock Historical Museum said gas stoves provided reasonably consistent heat without heating the whole kitchen in summer. They also didn’t require long pre-heating times, or leave a lot of ash to be cleaned up.
By the late 1920s and the early 1930s, a competitor to gas stoves emerged: the electric stove. Though the electric stove made its first appearance in the late 1880s, improvements to the power grid would take decades before electric stoves became a truly viable option.
In the 1970s, glass-top stoves became popular for their sleek appearance and ease of cleaning. To protect the glass, the burners underneath don’t stay on constantly as they do on a traditional stove. They maintain a certain heat level, but you’ll see them go on and off as necessary. It’s that little difference that kept my mom from buying a glass-top stove. She likes to use a pressure cooker for stews and apparently pressure cookers need constant heat.
When I moved into my current place, it had a glass-top stove. The ease of cleaning alone sold me on it quickly!
From the time I first lived in an apartment, I haven’t been without a dishwasher. My folks didn’t have a dishwasher until the mid-1980s. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Prior to that, we did have a dishwasher, but normally, it was Mom. (I did occasionally assist.)
I’m one of those annoying types who “pre-washes” dishes before loading them in the dishwasher. But I run a shorter dishwasher cycle as a compromise. I like the heated drying as a way to help kill any bacteria that my first pass didn’t take care of.
Frankly, I marvel at those ads on TV about how well various dishwashing detergents clear away “caked on food.” I’ve never once seen any detergent do that successfully. That’s why I make sure nothing I put into the dishwasher has food that had the chance to “cake itself on” to begin with.
Curiously enough, the dishwasher seems to be the least-used appliance. More than being the least-used, a study found 20% of people who have dishwashers never use them.
Maybe some people wash dishes the same day they use them, air dry them and return them to the cabinet. Maybe some people just use paper plates and plastic utensils more these days. (You can debate to your heart’s content which is worse on the environment: pre-washing or plastic.)
Efforts to invent a dishwasher date back to the late 1880s. But it wasn’t until just before the turn of the century that a serious possibility appeared.
But dishwashers only became successful in homes in the post-war boom of the 1950s, and even then, only for the wealthy. It would be another 20 years before they started to become commonplace.
A decade ago, HOME Statosphere says, more than 75 of U.S. homes had one.
I’m old enough to remember my parents bringing home our first microwave oven. It was a large beast with a heavy door and a thick glass turntable. If I’m correct, that had to be the very early 1980s. It felt like a novelty to be able to place food inside, dial up a time and press “Cook.” No mess, no fuss.
Microwave ovens came down in price quickly from the 1970s through the early 1980s. I just had to replace the above-stove microwave in my home. It was on sale for under $300, and that’s for a large size unit with a venting and light for the stove cooktop.
The origin of the microwave oven dates back to 1945, when engineer Percy Spencer realized radio waves he was working wirh started melting a candy bar in his pocket. I think I would’ve gotten the hell out of there, but he had a more inventive idea. The first “Radarange” made its debut the following year.
The first domestic microwave came along in 1955. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that they really began to become common. Nowadays, you almost can’t walk into a kitchen without seeing one.
People might consider the garbage disposal the least essential appliance on this list…particularly if they’ve never had one.
Since moving into my first apartment, I haven’t been without one myself. If mine died, I’d almost certainly replace it rather than go without.
Like the dishwasher, garbage disposals started to become popular in U.S. homes after World War II.
You wouldn’t think there were so many rules about what you should and shouldn’t do with a garbage disposal, but you can find a list in the link above. I mostly use mine for the little bit of food pieces left on my plate. If you’ve seen me in person, it would not surprise you to know I don’t leave much on my plate.
So for the most part, while my disposal gets regular work, it still has an easy job.
How is your kitchen outfitted?