Wednesday, September 7, 2011

7 September 1957 “Air Fresheners and the Scent of Home”

dazyad I always love to come across the new arrival of everyday products here in the 1950’s. This advertisement for Dazy air freshener is such a circumstance.

You will notice here that it uses a pump spray, similar to a window cleaner, to atomize the room. There is no aerosol with this room freshener.

This is an interesting bit of the history of the modern air freshener

The first modern air freshener was introduced in 1948. Its function was based on a military technology for dispensing insecticides and adapted into a pressurized spray using a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) propellant. The product delivered a fine mist of aroma compounds that would remain suspended in the air for an extended period of time. This type of product became the industry standard and air freshener sales experienced tremendous growth. In the 1950s, many companies began to add chemicals that counteract odors to their fragrance formulas. These chemicals, intended to neutralize or destroy odors, included unsaturated esters, pre-polymers, and long-chain aldehydes.

It is rather interesting to me how many consumer products of the 1950’s were born out of the technology and production needed and put into action during WWII. We today know, of course, that many of these componets and the dispensing of some of them are harmful to our environment and our own bodies.

I think what intrigued me about this ad is lead me to think of the levels of daily living that began to build up about a homemaker and her family in the 1950’s. How we lived, even to our housing size, nuclear family, what we ate, male and female roles, were so distinctly invented in this one decade.

Certainly a 1920’s homemaker would have had concern about odors in her home. But, had she been the then middle class, she most likely would have had some help and her kitchen would have been placed at the back of the house separated from the rest of the house by a pantry and then the dining room. Most often odors were kept in the kitchen by sheer placement of rooms.

In the 19th and earlier centuries, it was considered common or not ‘the thing’ to have kitchen or food odors in the home. Kitchens were placed in the cellars in city homes and often in country homes. If not, they were housed in a separate wing housing staff and separated from the main living areas by a series of rooms leading from servants to masters.

The middle class, before the 1950’s, of course wished to emulate the upper classes (As they were often attempting to or often intermarrying into the upper classes). Therefore the idea of an open kitchen with a family room would have been unheard of. Even if mother did the cooking with daughter, it was in the back behind a swinging door, with smells kept at bay until dinner was served in the dining room.

The smell from privies and water closets, beginning to show up in homes in the late Victorian middle class, were often still placed out in the yard and reached outdoors or were stuck upstairs along the back closer to the back stairs. So odors were dealt with, again, proximity.

It wasn’t until the great growth of suburbia and tract housing that the small and open house was a part of the middle class life. Certainly working class people often had to deal with smells but many lived in one room flats in cities or small cottages with rooms opening on one another. They are almost the precedent for the open kitchen, with father and sons sitting at the only table in the kitchen as mother and daughters prepare the food and discuss their days.

Thus, the decrease in house size and openness of rooms to one another suddenly created a need to have a ‘fresher’ smelling home. And, as always, one wanted the idea of perfection which would include aroma. It is almost as if all the longing and hope of those in the WWII destruction of home and country began to fantasize about a perfection of hearth and home that had never truly existed and then, in the 1950’s, set about to create it. And with the added technologies we could, in a very Disney fashion, create an allusion: A European Castle built overnight in Florida to house dreams, a home in the suburbs with perfect lawns and wonderful odors.

Now, we rather like cooking odors and often our ‘deodorizing’ will come in flavors such as ‘fresh baked cookies’, ‘cinnamon buns’ and so on, despite there being very little cooking and baking going on. Our candles, no longer needed for light, also come in such cooking aromas. It is as if the need to create the end product or the illusion without the work or actual content has grown into a very produced sort of life. Large kitchens opened to big family rooms with expensive appliances which get very little use. Food nuked in the microwave or brought in and a quick spray of an aerosol can and ta-dah it is as if mother has been home all day baking or cooking.

It seems to me the more we separate ourselves from the basic at home or in nature way of living our human condition has had to deal with for centuries, the more we use our technology and money to recreate it in some form. We will be frazzled and busy, all working insane hours, having very little time together, yet our big houses sit empty and family group has split into separate rooms plugged into computers, ipods, digital books and so on. Yet, what is it we are all doing with these things? Recreating a world in which we are enjoying the quiet calm of at home. But, if we really thought about it, without half of the things we work for and towards; without the goals of this and that, the simplicity of less and more time together would be the ultimate experience we are all longing for.

Perhaps we can soon come out with a fragrance that recreates the honesty and hardworking quality that we, as a people once felt. Perhaps flavors such as, “neighborliness”, “Safety”, “Family unity” will fly off the market in candle and can form. Or, of course, we might not be that far from a holo-deck, much like on Star Trek, where we can simply recreate the perfect loving family and home.

Perhaps my own time ‘at home’ allows me too much leisure to think, as I have gleaned all of this from a casual glance at a magazine advert. Then again, that might be a nice scent as well, “Time to Think”. Would you buy it?

Happy Homemaking.


  1. It truly is fascinating to me that many of the technologies that were invented during wartime were morphed into products for household use. My favorite example is Tupperware. The plastic was developed for munitions and then turned into containers that "burped" that made their way into most households.
    Microwaves were initially called "radar ranges" because the technology was developed during wartime as radar was used to detect movement in the sky. The first microwaves were enormous and costly and initially were affordable only to restaurants. My first microwave was purchased in the early 80s and it was quite large compared to the small one I have today. It was also far more expensive than today's model.
    Interesting post. Thanks............Denise

  2. Another Denise here:

    Our 50's ranch was designed for economy, and is NOT an example of midcentury modern in terms of "a thoughtful floor plan for gracious living". Our bathroom is placed directly adjacent to the bedrooms and living room. There is no respite from odors! I have come to prefer a two-story layout or a split-level design.

  3. I hope that your commentary was meant to be tongue-and-cheek. I would hate to think that your modern view of the world is so jaded as to assume that contemporary family members are all isolating themselves in pods through the house communicating only via technology. My friends & family all gather together in our homes for daily breakfast and dinner in our dining rooms. With the exception of one widow and 1 divorcee, we are all say-at-home wives, Mothers, and homemakers. Even my friends who are married and do not have children choose to say home in the role of homemaker. We are neither shunned by society, nor do we feel lacking in any intellectual way. In my experience, I find that the families portrayed in TV shows illustrate the minority of American families and often people buy into the medias perception of the modern, divided, disfunctional family. If you run a well-appointed home with go ethics and strong family values, there is no reason who you can not live and raise your family in the modern world; no need to role play back to the 1950s. Just surround yourself with like minded people and hold true to your own morals and values and do not put an emphesis on the media, social networking, celebrities or trends and life will be good ...

  4. RMH-I recall our families first Microwave in the early 70;s it was huge and faux wood grain and had a dial no buttons. I also recall our first 'video' machine, a Betamax, also large and wood grained.
    Isn't it interesting how the old layouts will often be more thought out for function than simply looks.
    Anon-well, a bit of tongue in cheek and a bit of warning. Myself, of course, we are rather immersed in the 'old ways' here. We have meals at tables with linen napkins. We have no tv and only computers used, on my part, for research and rather like a glorified typewriter and drawing easel.
    I would love to think that the majority live a more 'old fashioned' way, and who can say. But, I know that many people yearn for the 'old days' but really they simply yearn for simple ways that are easily enough found today, if one takes control of their life and make conscious decisions concerning it. I think, however, that the majority of the young people are in fact being more raised by technology than by any form of 50's style mother in the kitchen with cookies at the ready after a day at school where in people had to dress nicely and listen and respect their teachers. Let's hope you are right. For my own part, my main thesis is always contrasting today with then and also to discern what was then really and what either fictionalized today either for good or bad.
    It sounds as if you have a nice family and happy neighbors and I am happy to know it exists. Thank you.

  5. Donna, thanks for sharing the info about air freshener. I've never been a fan of it and don't understand the need to buy it. I know some household smells are unpleasant but the artificial scent is far worse IMO. It seems to me that if you keep your home relatively clean the only smells would be from cooking, not rotting garbage or something equally offensive. I know bathroom smells are unpleasant but we have indoor plumbing so they dissipate quickly. And not to be gross but if we ate a cleaner diet (less processed food) there would be less to worry about regarding toilet odors. I think air freshener is just another thing to sell to give the appearance of a clean home.


  6. Sarah-I agree. I do not use air freshener. It is an unnecessary expense and certainly a waste of packaging. One thing that really struck me when I began my project almost three years ago was the amount of garbage in my household. We now generate one small bag of garbage a week. At one time, before 1955, it was easier to create more. With more things made from scratch (base ingredients rather than separate packaging) and no frills such as water or soda bottles, it is rather astounding. Now, if only we had a diary that delivered to the door and took and refilled our old glass milk bottles, that would be less as well. I also save all my paper garbage in a small bin in my kitchen to light fires as we often have fires outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter. I laugh when I see things like 'duralogs' now, though I once was an avid user of such products.
    My air freshener is the sweet smell of baking day, the wonderful aroma of coffee and bacon in the morning and in the summer, fresh flowers weekly thanks to my perennial gardens.
    Fake scents are just that fake, and they often give my nose a little twinge.
    While having to clean out the wretched mess of our rental property, we used scented candles and aerosol room sprays the tenants had left. I figured they were they, might as well use them. The honest truth was they smelled almost as bad as the garbage after awhile and I preferred the smell of bleach and water and of course pine-sol and water. Blasts of fresh air from all the windows being opened was worth 20 cans of 'fresh laundry' scented spray. I kid you not, one of the scents was 'fresh laundry'. A scent, judging by the condition of the house' was only ever smelled from a can and not their actual clothing.

  7. Oh, I wonder what 'safety ' would smell like! With 6 people in one house, air freshner is often needed in the bathroom! I just use a spray bottle of water with a little soluble eucalptus oil mixed in (great for ironing too). I am working on doing my own lables as you have suggested previously, but......anyway, I love it that you live 50s style, it's an inspiration to many of us who do so in a smaller way xx

  8. Interesting article – as usual! Love your thoughts and investigation about how it all began. I hate open kitchens, I love I that I can close the door and that my whole house will not smell of cooking – except when baking. Baking always smells lovely, especially at Christmas. Aaah, cookies! :) I also hate those socalled “air fresheners” and fragranced candles. They stink and they are hazardous to your lungs, don’t buy them. The very popular “Wunder Baum” hanging in many cars have been proved to give cancer! Open the doors and windows instead and get some fresh air. Fresh air is the best, even during Winter when it is cold. If I want some kind of scent in my home, I use a few drops of pure oil in a candle “burner” (I don’t know the English word for such a thing). Fresh flowers are also great.In fact I think there are many things in the shops to buy which are of no use at all.

  9. 50s Gal,

    Just wondering what you meant by "We have no tv and only computers used, on my part, for research and rather like a glorified typewriter and drawing easel." Does not the fact that you have a blog and engage in social-networking on almost a daily basis contradict your above stated claim? You should not feel like you have to down play your computed use, when it is apparent from you site/blog/boards that you do spend a great deal of time online working on your cyber-persona.

  10. anon-I am actually not trying to downplay my online time. But, my 'social networking' involves we daily (or when I happen to make a post sometimes I skip a day) simply linking my post to facebook and twitter (That is the only time I visit them) and other than commenting here (as my poor Forum can attest) I honestly only use my computer to write, research and sometimes draw.
    I could easily be here all day. I do, however, keep my computer on all day usually with my site open, so perhaps that is a sort of 'online presence' but mainly to check any comments and write back, as I am now doing. I just poked my head in from the kitchen.
    It isn't that I am trying to 'portray myself a certain way' I am simply stating that the old me could easily spend ALL day online and the New me uses it more as a tool, as I know the temptation to use it only to play with, would be far too great.
    Obviously I have an online presence or I wouldn't have a blog, that is fairly apparent. But, again, my social networking makes me laugh. It is comments, such as this, posting a blog, or a news week, simply cutting and pasting a link to said items on facebook and twitter and that is it. I don't 'tweet' in the sense of typing out what I am doing at any moment. I never text, and rarely use my cell phone. We LITERALLY do not have a TV in the house with any cable or reception and my only 'tv watching' is on the computer and rather sparingly.
    So, I suppose, that is my 'cyber-persona'.
    I have been to homes where people literally will stop mid conversation with me to start texting a response on a phone or suddenly be drawn away by the tv. That, I am happy to say, is NOT a daily part of my life.

  11. On our recent vacation, my husband and I popped into a local candle store to window shop. After smelling a few candles my nose began to itch. Upon leaving the store I looked at my hand and saw blood. The candles gave me a nose bleed, which never happens to me! Also the aerosol fresheners give me headaches.

  12. Call me crazy but I much prefer the fragrance of a bouquet of flowers over the artificial smell of something called "Posy Springtime on the Prairie" (yes, I just made it up) from a bottle or can.

    Donna, like you, when I began living a more intentional life about a decade ago, I was amazed by how little waste we produced. Now it kind of irks me that I have to pay $40 per month for refuse when it takes us two months to fill up the container! *chuckle*

  13. Actualy,before sprays,odors where countered by such things as Air Wick air freshener. It worked by evaporation. You pulled a wick up part way out of a bottle of liquied and as it evaporated the scent was released into the air.It worked best in small area. My grandparents used it during my childhood in the 5O's.

  14. I posted this reply on my blog, but in case you don't see it, I'll also post it here:

    -> Donna, thank you for your long comment and your compliments on son and motherhood. :)

    I'm surprised you say son looks like an ordinary US boy. Everybody here in DK says he looks like a British Public School boy. The clothes he is wearing in these photos are very casual, and because he is going to be tattoed he is only wearing an undershirt. Normally, he wears nice jeans/chinos, shirt (which I have ironed, ahem), cardigan or pullover and very often af tie. He loves Converse and has them in every colour from dark red to grey and several blue tones. He does not look like most other Danish boys and loves to be well dressed.

    His short hair is quite new, he started wearing it this short this Spring, because it is easier when wearing a safety helmet driving his moped. Now he loves it.

    And yes, I like the tattoe too, it is well designed and a great idea and becomes him good. I hope he will not get a lot more.

    Wishing you a lovely weekend. :)

  15. I've just been reading a series of historical novels set in the 1500s. They hung clove studded oranges in the window (perhaps the sun released the smells faster) and sprinkled lavender in the floor rushes to freshen them.
    Apparently I have a fairly sensitive body system and react fairly swiftly to chemical substances. I am really concerned about some of my friends who suffer from Chronic fatigue and lupus yet insist on using airfresheners and anti-bacterial sprays. They can't comprehend that these harmful things are probable contributing to their problems. I recently walked across a floor which had just been sprayed with insect killer and spent days with abdominal agony and diarrhoea.
    On another note Anon 1 says that "If you run a well-appointed home " ...... How many people can afford a well appointed home without having both adults working full time to support it which of course leads to the search for company and acceptance by their offspring in the modern forms of social media.

  16. I grow my own lavender. I pick it and put it in satin bags. I like to give these to friends or stuff them in drawers; or under a pillow . It is said to help people sleep better. At Christmas I always like to make the orange and clove pomanders . They make my house smell great and I give them to friends and sisters with pretty ribbons tied to them. I keep a bowl of them on my dinning room table . I have my mom and sisters in for a Christmas tea.
    Keep up the good work. I visited your news area about the Russian diet. I noticed they left room for beer and liquor in their diet. I guess barley hops grain? why not.


 Search The Apron Revolution