Electricity in the Kitchen

by Rena

Besides an eBay countdown for a vintage electric stove, the above video has a shortened history of electric cook stoves, or what people in the early 1900s would call “cooking with wire.”

The electric motor was invented in 1837, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the improved motor found its way into the kitchen.

Stoves
There was a patent awarded in 1859 for an electric cooking device, and there were a number of electric ovens invented in the 1890s, but none of these became commercially viable. In 1906 there were about 50 electric stoves produced in Australia, but they too weren’t a commercially success.

1915 hotplate.

Electric hotplate, photo published in 1915.

Freestanding hotplates were the first electric stoves, slowly coming on the market circa 1906-1908; many advertisements appeared in 1911. Above is a picture of an early electric hotplate “stove” patented in 1914. One of the first electric ovens, modeled after the fireless cookers of the time, was invented in 1909 by Lloyd Copeman near Detroit. The ovens were slow in selling, so Copeman sold his company to Westinghouse between 1914-1917. Westinghouse is also said to have invented the toaster oven in 1910. Another early electric stove, circa 1910, had an oven with what looked like hotplates attached to the top surface.

Automatic oven controls were invented in 1915 and installed in most electric stoves in the 1920s. Before then the cook would shut the oven on and off to regulate oven temperature. In the mid-1920s a clock-timer was added to some electric stoves to automatically turn on and shut off the stove at specified times to cook meals while away from the stove.

Because not all homes were wired for electricity, electric stoves weren’t in common use until the 1930s. The microwave oven was invented in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1967 that the countertop version was available for the home. Self-cleaning electric ovens were first available in 1963, and the electric bread machine in 1992.

Toasting
The first electric toaster was invented in 1872, but its distribution was limited to England. The first commercially successful electric toaster was invented in 1909, and may have been one of the more popular electric kitchen gadgets. The pop-up toaster was invented in 1919 but waited until the Toastmaster 1926 to be introduced to the marketplace. The Marshmallow Toaster was invented in 1920.

Refrigerators
The first electric refrigerator was invented in 1872, but not for home use. The first electric refrigerator for the home was a plumbed unit perched on top of the old icebox, invented in 1913 and introduced in 1916. The electric refrigeration unit before 1925 was made to retrofit the existing icebox. The hermetically-sealed standalone refrigerator was invented in 1925, at the same time that refrigerators were being made of steel and porcelain cabinets. The first refrigerator that was widely used was the GE “Monitor-Top” released to the market in 1927, but the mass production of electric refrigerators didn’t really begin until 1945.

Coffee-making
By 1914 the electric percolator was proudly being used in wired homes, and the first automated electric percolator was introduced in 1952. It wasn’t until Mr. Coffee arrived in 1972 that the drip process was automated and there was a built-in automatic cut-off control.

Grinding, Mixing and Blending
The electric coffee grinder was one of the first electric appliances in the kitchen, being introduced in the 1890s. Although there was a patent for a food mixer in the 1885, the stand mixer was the first to be widely available for the home. The first stand mixer was invented c. 1920 for commercial soda fountains, and within a few years the stand mixer was available for the home, along with the electric blender which was invented in 1922.

Most of us have a great appreciation for many of the electric conveniences in the kitchen, particularly the electric dishwasher because it saves so much time. Blenders are a big help in creating quick, healthy, and refreshing drinks within seconds; and, for certain recipes we thank our lucky stars for the electric mixer! We take these for granted, but electric appliances and gadgets weren’t always here, and are now part of kitchen history.

See the updated list of vintage stove stores.

Resources:
Great Achievements
PartSelect
Idea Finder
Canada Science and Technology Museum

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