Evolution of household appliances

Housekeeping is an ‘obligatory’ task, which could be rather burdening before the birth of the modern household. Our current virtual exhibition gives a short overview of the development how washing by hand was replaced by washing machines, mangle was changed by flat iron or sewing by hand gave place to sewing machines.

In a frosty morning of February 1938, Julianna Egri could finally begin working with her sewing machine (that she had bought for 308 forints) equipped with a drop-table, establishing her sewing-woman and breadwinner position. This account was reported by a contract, guarded in the family legendry, concluded between the Singer Corporation and my great-grandmother.
Singer Varrógép - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDSurely, she was not the only one who decided to start sewing in the 1930s. The popularity of machines increased extremely in that period, because the sewing machine patented by Singer was the first machine fabricated in mass production. In addition, it was affordable for the less wealthy as well, due to a credit construction. Services and components trading firms were also available in larger cities. In the meantime, mass production of clothes could also start, thus this also effected the clothing habits of the period, because cheaply made mass-produced clothes became available for many people. The sewing machine became a symbol this way. Although it lost its function due to the fast fashion shops, its solid frame still lives with us and its cast-iron footing serves as a table or a plant stand nowadays.

Probably everybody can visualise washing women stooping over washtubs on brooksides. On average, wealthy middle-class families hired washing women once a month, on the washing day, which shows well how hard this work was even later. Technical innovations integrated into ordinary days during the 19th century; the early ‘washing machines’ solved only the spinning of water and clothes. Later, wooden barrels with staves were replaced by similarly working metal machines, which were operated by hand and could be heated. The operational principle of these machines has not changed, only the technique of their driving has been modernised.

Centrum Áruház kirakata, Veszprém - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDThe electric rotary washing machines spread in the middle of the 20th century. The first Hungarian type of them, the iconic Hajdú was fabricated in Téglás in Hajdúság – not surprisingly. The characteristic cylindrical machine was followed by the tumble dryer soon with the well-tried cylindrical form. As of the 1960s, the demand for automatic washers increased radically. Working women, tiny bathrooms and tumble dryers did not prove to be an operable matching. Finally, the company started their production based on the licence purchased from AEG. The legendary Energomat, allowing a whole generation to put on clean clothes, is not produced any more unfortunately. Besides clean clothes, there was a demand for ironed clothes too, though it was the privilege of the rich in the beginning. No wonder that the flat iron was not a basic household appliance for a long time; the mangle was used instead. The mangle is a hand-driven machine that smoothed out wrinkles caused by washing. It consisted of a wooden desk fixed on a cast-iron stand and two hardwood rollers.

Fotó, Pápa, vasaló - Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDIn rural households, the ancestor of iron was a simple wooden board with handle, on which linen was smoothed by hand. Unfortunately, housewives had to wait until the 19th century for the invention of the electric flat iron. Luckily, one can select from a number of ironing methods that make the activity easier nowadays.

After the outfit, let’s talk about the cleanness of homes. The history of the vacuum cleaner began with mechanic brooms – and the story of those began with the classical corn brooms that usually stirred more dust than they collected. Hubert Cecil Booth invented the ancestor of the modern vacuum cleaner in 1901, after having watched how they had tried to blow out dust from carriages in vain at a railway station. Then he realized ‘why don’t they try aspiration?’ We cannot be grateful enough for his idea. In Hungary, the iconic Rakéta (Rocket) hoover was the favourite as of the ‘60s, the high-end product of the Soviet industry – competing with the other called Csajka. It must have been one of the most popular household appliances. If I remember well, ours was green, and noisy and heavy, but operated for more than 20 years as an appreciated member of our household.
It seems that our campaign for cleanness cannot come to an end. Although some people say that the washing machine was the invention of the century, even the robot vacuums have become reality by now. We can hardly wait for the innovations that future brings.

Translated by Zita Aknai