I considered the plight of thousands in northern and southern California where – if your house had not already burned to the ground and if you had not been ordered to evacuate because of impending fire or smoke – then your electric power supply had probably been shut off.
What would life be like without electric power?
In the late 1800s, Mr. Edison and Mr. Westinghouse competed with each other to light the nation. They each wanted to illuminate the world with this possibly dangerous thing called electricity. I saw the movie “The Current War” yesterday, which is about this rivalry.
Back when electric lighting was just a wild idea, some people were skeptics. “We don’t need any newfangled source for light,” they said. “We have our candles, our kerosene lanterns, our gaslights. Never mind. We’re good.”
But electricity caught on. Late 19th and early 20th Century inventors stumbled all over each other inventing electric appliances and labor-saving devices especially for housewives: electric toasters, irons, fans, coffee percolators, sewing machines, refrigerators, and more.
Electric-powered conveniences have quietly multiplied and crept into our lives, one by one, until we can’t imagine a comfortable existence without them.
Take sewing machines. Apparently, my maternal grandmother never warmed to the idea. She lived with my aunt, who had her own sewing machine, one that plugged nicely into a wall socket. My grandmother’s treadle Singer, powered by her feet alone, now takes up space in my bedroom. I just looked up its serial number and discovered it was manufactured in 1900. It has outlasted my aunt’s by several decades.
If my grandmother had worn a FitBit back then, she probably would have logged 10,000 steps just doing the weekly mending or making a pair of café curtains for her kitchen.
Electric mixers. “Who needs an electric mixer?” scoffed the skeptics. “My arm is strong. I can mix this batter perfectly well with a big wooden spoon, for God’s sake.”
But my mother swooned over her electric Kitchen Aid mixer. My father gave it to her for Christmas when I was about 7 years old. “And it even has a dough hook,” she burbled.
You’d have thought he wrapped up the Hope Diamond and dropped it in her lap or that she’d snagged the grand prize on Queen for a Day, an afternoon TV giveaway show popular in the 1950s.
My mother loved that mixer. It was never stashed away inside a cupboard. It lived on our kitchen counter and got a workout every single day. Our dinners and desserts took a definite positive turn as my mother gained skill creating smooth, creamy mashed potatoes; made-from-scratch cakes and homemade bread.
Then somebody began marketing electric brooms. I was the skeptic here. “Give me a break,” I said. “Like, I can’t push a freaking broom? What’s so exhausting about that?”
When I first heard about electric brooms, I pictured an old lady with a green face dressed in a black wide-brimmed pointed hat and a long black dress – Margaret Hamilton, a.k.a. The Wicked Witch of the West. Instead of riding a bicycle, she was astride a conventional-looking broom that had a cumbersome electric motor attached to the back.
Electric can openers. Curling irons. Hair dryers. Electric knives. Electric tooth brushes. Electric blankets. Now, electric cars.
A 1928 advertisement for the Electrical Development Corporation claimed women would “no longer be tied down by housework” because they could clean with electricity, which it said was “readily available at the flip of a switch.” It showed a picture of a woman leaving her house carrying a set of golf clubs.
That morning last week, I flipped the switch for my automatic garage door opener, climbed into my car and backed out of the driveway while my various appliances toiled.