I was thinking the other morning as I prepared our breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast how vastly different was this activity for my 1913 self to my 1955 self? And I began to consider in what ways they would differ. In both circumstances I would be at home, that would be without question, I am assuming. Though I feel my 1913 counterpart would have had the benefit of at least a ‘maid of all work’. But, a middle class homemaker in 1913 would most likely still be the main chef in her own kitchen simply having the maid serve as her assistant.
Let’s start with toast. That simple joy of warmed and crispy bread There they sit brown and lovely waiting for their lashings of butter and jam. I love them cut into little strips, (soldiers) to be dipped into my 3 minute egg.
My current toaster is, in fact, a 1950’s model. So my 1955 self would quite easily pop her pre-sliced bread into the slots and press down the lever without a second thought. In fact in many movies of the times such as 1930’s/40s Dagwood movies and Leave it to Beaver in the late 1950’s we see the toaster on the breakfast table. Homemakers often followed this example. Even mother at home alone with baby enjoyed her table top luxury of toast at the ready.
While toast for my 1913 self might be a different animal all together.
Most likely I used wither a stove top toaster or a fork before the fire. Here is an example of a 1909 Edison toaster with Edison screw fitting. Such fittings would screw into a central hanging light fixture which was a sort of early outlet. As electricity made it into some kitchens the outlet overhead was often the source of ‘plugging in’ any appliance. Usually an adaptor would be screwed in to hold a light bulb and either a place to plug or screw in such appliances as this toaster.
Of course a homemaker in 1913 would most likely use either the old manner of a toast fork holding the bread over the range grate opening and turning to brown or else a stove top toaster such as this. I actually have one of these for a gas range which Bessie uses in her little cottage today rather than a modern electric toaster.
One needs bacon and therefore we would need to have that stored somewhere. In 1955 the rashers would come wrapped in plastic or brown paper from the local butcher and live in the refrigerator. My 1913 homemaker would most likely have a slab of salted and cured bacon in her pantry from which she might cut her daily rashers or she would simply get them cut, as needed, from the local butcher and keep them in her icebox. Though not for as long as a 1950’s homemaker may consider with her option of freezer.
So, onto refrigeration:
Although this type of refrigerator here was used in 1913 it would have only been used on a commercial scale. Therefore the ice box would have been my means of keeping foods in 1913. The electric refrigeration available in 1913 would have been considered not only too expensive but too dangerous for home use and it wasn’t really until the use in the 1920’s of Freon (the DuPont patented name for chlorofluorocarbon, which today has been phased out as it depletes the ozone layer.) that refrigerators in home use was prevalent in this country
This would have been more likely my kitchen companion. A wooden exterior but metal lined and insulated ice box. The ice would sit at the top, as cool temperatures will fall below the rising heat. And this gentleman would have been my weekly visitor, the iceman. Though rural homes may have kept an ice house, an outbuilding often partially in the ground or a shady north facing area to house larger quantities of ice packed in sawdust or straw and usually harvested locally from ponds and lakes.
If one had the money and space the approaches to improving the use of icebox (even being called refrigeration) were available. Here we see the homemaker or servant not even having to deal with the ice man and his dirt as he supplies the cooking blocks through an outdoor opening.
For myself in my current location, which would be even more rural in 1913, I feel I may have had a combination of both ice man and some outdoor storage of ice collected from the mill pond in my little village.
This would be the ideal for my 1955 counterpart and much more a reality for the American middle class homemaker. Interestingly enough, as I have mentioned many times in my 1950’s posts, I would most likely still refer to my modern miracle the refrigerator as the ‘ice box’. In fact, I took up the habit in my ‘55 year and find it hard to stop to this day. I recall my own mother (I had older parents) often referred to it as the ice box.
Being a homemaker in 1955 I would certainly have remembered the change over from the ice box to the refrigerator in my 1920’s childhood. And perhaps would have still seen one as a secondary device in my childhood kitchen or perhaps relegated to the basement.
This of course brings to mind consumption. My 1913 life would not have the ability to have the vast quantity of food bought at once and stored for months. With no freezer and only basic cooling from the ice box, food was addressed in a more daily fashion. With the aid of canning and preserving for long storage, such things as eggs, milk, and butter would have been treated and viewed quite differently by my 1913 me than my 1955. In fact my 1913 me would happily keep my eggs out on the counter and not bother with the ice box space for them while my 1955 me may have an egg portions specifically built into my new refrigerator.
That is why the real me, in some ways, actually has more in common in these few things with the 1913 me. I keep chickens and have a fresh supply of eggs for the picking in my back yard. This would have been true even for a more suburban woman in 1913 but very rare for the 1955 woman unless she was a farmer. And I too keep my eggs out on the counter in a wire basket or wooden egg holder rather than take up my own small refrigeration space. I gave up my large refrigerator last year in lieu of a small under counter dorm size fridge. This allows me to keep my shopping costs down and to force me to be more creative in meal planning and weekly marketing.
Post WWII in America the modern notion of consumerism was born. That was slowly and sometimes painfully revealed to me as I continued to live and learn futher in the 1950’s. As the years passed from 55-58 the sheer number of pre-packaged foods, soft drinks, products for health, beauty, cleaning, clothing, bedding, furniture, appliances, cars, homes, carpeting, the list could go on and on continued to appear. To my pre World War self the very concept of such things would not only be hard to grasp but seem wasteful beyond belief. Items bought to be disposed of would have not only seemed odd but sinful to my 1913 counterpart.
As I continued to imagine the differing process of my simple eggs, bacon and toast breakfast I also began to consider how I would be cooking those eggs. Most likely my cooking would be done on a stove similar to this. It would be either wood fired or more than likely coal fired.
I would empty my ash pit by hand. Were it a wood fire it would go onto the garden, as compost, but most likely the coal would simply be thrown out as it contained toxic waste even a 1913 wife would know was no good for the garden. My warm water for the house would be in the water tank. It would be either spouted for simply pouring into pans or plumbed into my one bathroom to have the ‘luxury’ of hot water on tap for basin washes and a once a week bath.
If there was electricity in my town I might be lucky enough to have a stove similar to this electric model from 1900. This look will become more the norm as we move into the later teens for gas and propane style stoves. And the move to gas over coal/wood was certainly happening at this time. And I may have even been lucky enough to have such a gem as this stove here.
This manual is free and available in the Library under Vintage Magazines & Manuals Here.
Of course in my 1950’s kitchen I may simply make my eggs and bacon on my easy to use plug in electric skillet. In fact I could prepare the eggs and bacon and toast all easily at the table while I visited with hubby and my electric percolator would also happily be chugging away. Certainly there is far more conveniences in my 1950’s kitchen and morning prep work.
This also made me consider fuel costs. I found this online book which outlines fuel costs from 1913.
Here we see cost of coal powered stove in 1913 would have been around $7.73. Adjusted for inflation that would be around $180.00 dollars in 2013 money. The cost of the average utility bill monthly in 1955 would be around $10 or in today’s money, $85.47.
The average gas prices, which one could also have some gas heat and cooking, would be around .95 cents a month in 1913 or about $22.00 in today’s money.
I could find no data for 1913 for electricity costs as it was relatively new and often provided locally at varying rates. It had not been made a unified monopoly under single company ownership as it would do in the future.
In some ways costs for fuel would be less in 1950s Post War prosperity but many more uses for the power and newer more open homes and less clothing meant a greater use of that fuel. A 1913 family would not have known the heated home in the same way as their 1955 counterpart and when it was cold they simply put on more layers over their already ample ones.
What is unfortunate for us today as that many have a larger style home more familiar to the 1913 middle class but with the open floor plan of the 1955 home and with an increases desire for luxury and heat of the 1950’s as well as vastly increased prices in fuel and certainly far less clothing. An odd mix, when one considers it.
This would be a ktichen set up I may have in 1913
While we know the 1950’s counterpart had every choice from ultra modern such as the Monsanto corp version at 1950’s Disneyland
Even then, in the 1950’s, we were looking back amongst our conveniences to a simpler time.
And despite all the cutting edge, easy to clean kitchens of the 1950’s the comforting home allure of wood-fired cooking, big rag rugs and hand pump sinks were still in the consciousness of the country and could be called upon to sell an idea and a product. The processed machine made chicken soup of Campbell’s was made all the more appealing in this 1950’s ad by drawing on the memory of Grandma’s warm kitchen filled with love and antiquated appliances.
Today, rather we are more drawn to the nostalgia of the chrome and vinyl of the 1950’s kitchen or the wooden hearth of the 1913 version, we may want to stop and ask ourselves, “what is really behind the draw?” Is it simply a need to acquire and re-decorate or are we inside longing for a time which we feel was simpler and more honest. And rather or not that time truly was what is in our imaginings of it, is it not still a valid goal to try and simplify our lives with less money worry and the safety of more knowledge.
Understanding where we come from and how we got to where we are is important. Seeing the flaws of the present and the flaws of the past can aid us in finding ways to change those. A simple band-aid over a heart-attack seems an ill planned solution to a serious diagnosis. So, simply acquiring the past in objects to sit on shelves may not be the real solution to a problem we may feel our present currently suffers from. I think we owe it to ourselves to see that real solutions can come at our own hands, be they simply growing more of our own food, keeping chickens, or simply turning off that TV or saving that $5 rather than buying one more inferior product we don’t need. The pull of the past can be strong and the desire to surrond ourselves with their objects may help and be a boon to the real solution of simply asking ourselves how can we do the more sensible and logical things that once happened in the past? It doesn’t have to stay buried there, we live in a time of so many choices why not start making the right ones.
I hope all have a lovely day.