Document 38: Electricity in the American Home

This document is relevant to a history of amateur woodworking because it signals -- among many other things -- what economic force motivated Ray Dewalt to invent the Radial Arm Saw. (For the 1920s -- so far -- historical details about the Dewalt RAS are scarce. Anecdotally, Wall Kunkel notes that DeWalt -- an Industrial Arts instructor -- was spurred on to develop and patent the RAS by the spurt in housing stimulated by the return of veterans from WWI (1916-1918) and increased immigration -- facts noted below in Document 38 below -- but other details still need to be filled in.

A preliminary investigation on DeWalt is disappointing, at least from the point of view that Dewalt significantly contributed to American society:-- to a large extent, the enormous splurge in house construction in the post-WWII era was powered by Dewalt's invention. Moreover, the impact of the RAS was not limited to house construction. In many instances, the RAS became a fixture in home workshops, after the house construction was complete. Read more here and here.

That no biography is found in the Oxford Dictionarly of American Biography is regretted, because this new Oxford set was designed to fill in the gaps of previous failed attempts toward comprehensive inclusion of Americans who, in one way or another, made significant contributions to American history.


Twenty-nine out of every hundred wired homes are estimated to have electric washing machines, making a total of 3,300,000 machines, worth $412,500,000, in use at the end of 1923.... electric light and power companies were the first to sell electric appliances ... in the beginning the companies even gave them away to the customer.

Total kilowatt hours generated by electric light and power companies increased from 5,862,000,000 kilowatt hours in 1907 to 11,569,000,000 in 1912, more than doubled by 1917 when amount generated totaled 25,438,000,000 kilowatt hours, and again doubled by 1924, when output aggregated 53,937,000,000 kilowatt hours.

Often the true impact of new innovations work out in the next generation.


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ELECTRICITY IN THE AMERICAN HOME

Rapid Developrnent  of Household Appliance Industry in the United States

Use of electrical appliances in the home dates back only comparatively few years, but during that time its rate of growth has been amazing. The first electric lamp was marketed about 1880, and the domestic appliance industry proper had its beginning about twenty years ago. In 1924 trade estimates place total sales of appliances, fixtures and other electrical merchandise used by retail consumers (as contrasted with commercial and industrial users) at well over a billion dollars. Sales of electricity to all consumers, residential, commercial, power and other public utilities amounted to $1,270,000,000 in 1923 and are estimated at $1,335,100,000 for 1924. Of these totals about 50 per cent represents sales of electricity for domestic consumption.

Conditions resulting from the war are mainly responsible for the rapid advance in the household appliance industry since 1914 as previous to that time the industry showed only moderate gains.

Probably 90 per cent of all goods bought at retail in the United States are purchased by women, and the remarkable increase in sales of domestic appliances which has taken place since 1914 may be said to reflect the economic and industrial changes that have affected the average home.

Between 1910 and 1920 the population of the United States increased 15 per cent.

During the same period, the number of domestic and personal servants, including cooks, chambermaids, laundresses and maids, decreased nearly 25 per cent, although the number of women in gainful occupations increased by 6 per cent. Thus there were available one-fourth fewer domestic workers for a population 15 per cent larger. Restricted immigration made the problem more acute. The labor-saving electric appliance helped to fill the need thus created

. The great increase of wealth in the United States from $1,965 per capita in 1912 to $2,689 in 1920 also served to stimulate the sales of electric household appliances during this period.

Other causes, however, have been contributory. Within the past two or three years the tremendous building that has been going on has been reflected in the rapid increase in the number of domestic customers. The growing popularity of apartment dwellings and small houses has favored the use of electric appliances because of their convenient size and operation and their special advantage in the summer time. Willingness of the American public to try new things, comparatively low rates of operation, effective advertising by both light and power companies and manufacturers of appliances, all have helped advance the use of domestic appliances in the average American home.

The use of household devices improves the load factor for the electric light companies and the expansion of the household appliance field came in part from the companies' efforts to eliminate the expensive off-peak periods that occur during the greater part of the day. Central station equipment must be sufficient to handle maximum requirements imme- diately since current must be generated as it is needed; storage is impracticable under present generating methods. The amount of energy consumed by domestic users ordinarily reaches its highest peak in the morning and evening when lights are required and falls to low levels the greater part of the day. Use of most electric appliances increases the amount of current consumed between morning and evening.

More than half of the cost of electric power is based on labor, equipment and overhead charges and goes on whether rent is used or not, so that increased use of energy by many customers has made it possible to reduce operating costs to each consumer. Rates are based on the cost of giving service as well as on the amount of energy used and if current is used constantly the rate per kilowatt hour for each consumer is naturally lower. Between 1914 and November, 1924 the price of electricity decreased 9 per cent. in contrast to conspicuous increases in food, clothing and fuel.

In view of these facts it is understandable why the electric light and power companies were the first to sell electric appliances and why in the beginning the companies even gave them away to the customer. Gradually, however, the companies ceased to sell directly to the consumer, but in the past two or three years they have again become an important factor in retailing appliances.

Consumer rates to some extent govern the kind of appliance that is used. For instance, 85 per cent of all electric ranges in the country are found west of the Rockies since rates for electricity are relatively favorable there and few gas companies operate.

Elsewhere rates are too high, proportionately, for the average man to afford an electric range. The load factor that appliances such as ranges and refrigerators furnish lowers the rate per kilowatt hour but despite this the average cost of using them is high in most localities. Up to a certain point the tendency is for rates to decrease as the number of customers and the amount of electric current they purchase increases; this in turn brings about the installation of better equipment, another factor operating to reduce rates. In 1923, residential customers used approximately 30 per cent of all energy consumed but they paid about half of the total gross income received by the electric light and power companies because of the differential rates paid by this class of customer. The stability of domestic consumption accounts in large measure for the continuous increase in gross revenue which the electric companies have enjoyed over a long stretch of years even during periods of general depression.

Aside from its basic application to lighting, the wide field of utilization in the home which electricity has already won for itself is indicated by the list of domestic appliances in common use. These include not only such well-known articles as the electric fan, electric iron, the washing machine, percolator and vacuum cleaner, but curling irons, toasters, immersion heaters, refrigerators, ranges, player pianos, electric toys, grills, heaters, and numerous others of a constantly increasing list. One of the most recent and already one of the most important developments in the electrical field is the radio. So far, unlike other devices used in the home, radio is a negligible consumer of central station current, although experiments are under way to perfect receiving sets to be connected with the lighting circuit.

The household appliance field has shown a most striking development within the`past decade, and a great part of the expansion has occurred since the end of the war. Some indication of its expansion is shown in Table A, which gives trade estimates of sales of some of the more impor-tant devices. This table, as well as several other sales estimates, is based on compilations made by the Electrical World.

Probably the real forerunner of the modern domestic appliance was the electric fan, introduced about 1895. Its simplicity of operation and dependable performance did much to popularize the use of electricity in the average home. Today the electric iron stands far ahead among domestic electrical appliances in use, with the vacuum cleaner next and the fan third. The first practical electric iron appeared on the market about 1905 or 1906, the vacuum cleaner and washing machine coming out about the same time. It is estimated that electric irons in use in the United States at the close of 1923 represented a total investment of $42,500,000 for eight and a half million irons with an average value of $5 each. Three-fourths of the residential users of electricity owned irons. These estimates must not be confused with the figures in Table A, which cover only the annual sales of appliances in the years indicated. In addition to its convenience and comparatively small initial cost, the low operating cost of the iron which averages' 3 to 6 cents an hour, has been a factor in extending its use.

Vacuum cleaners stand next, $215,000,-000 worth or 4,300,000 machines having been in use at the close of 1923. This rep-resents an average of 44 vacuum cleaners per 100 wired homes.: Operating costs of cleaners are about one cent per hour. Next in popularity come electric fans, found in one-third of the wired homes and averaging about one-third cent per hour to operate. As electrical energy is converted into power and light more econom-

tial customers used approximately 30 per cent. of all energy consumed but they paid about half of the total gross income received by the electric light and power companies because of the differential rates paid by this class of customer. The stability of domestic consumption accounts in large measure for the continuous in-crease in gross revenue which the electric companies have enjoyed over a long stretch of years even during periods of general depression.

Aside from its basic application to lighting, the wide field of utilization in the home which electricity has already won for itself is indicated by the list of domestic appliances in common use. These include not only such well-known articles as the electric fan, electric iron, the washing machine, percolator and vacuum cleaner, but curling irons, toasters, immersion heaters, refrigerators, ranges, player pianos, electric toys, grills, heaters, and numerous others of a constantly increasing list. One of the most recent and already one of the most important developments in the electrical field is the radio. So far, unlike other devices used in the home, radio is a negligible consumer of central station current, although experiments are under way to perfect receiving sets to be connected with the lighting circuit.

The household appliance field has shown a most striking development within the` past decade, and a great part of the expansion has occurred since the end of the war. Some indication of its expansion is shown in Table A [-- below--] which gives trade estimates of sales of some of the more impor-tant devices. This table, as well as several other sales estimates, is based on compilations made by the Electrical World.

Probably the real forerunner of the modern domestic appliance was the electric fan, introduced about 1895. Its simplicity of operation and dependable performance did much to popularize the use of electricity in the average home. Today the electric iron stands far ahead among domestic electrical appliances in use, with the vacuum cleaner next and the fan third. The first practical electric iron appeared on the market about 1905 or 1906, the vacuum cleaner and washing machine coming out about the same time. It is estimated that electric irons in use in the United States at the close of 1923 represented a total investment of $42,500,000 for eight and a half million irons with an average value of $5 each. Three-fourths of the residential users of electricity owned irons. These estimates must not be confused with the figures in Table A, which cover only the annual sales of appliances in the years indicated. In addition to its convenience and comparatively small initial cost, the low operating cost; of the iron which averages' 3 to 6 cents an hour, has been a factor in extending its use.

Vacuum cleaners stand next, $215,000,-000 worth or 4,300,000 machines having been in use at the close of 1923. This rep-resents an average of 44 vacuum cleaners per 100 wired homes.: Operating costs of cleaners are about one cent per hour. Next in popularity come electric fans, found in one-third of the wired homes and averaging about one-third cent per hour to operate. As electrical energy is converted into power and light more economically than into heat, appliances requiring heat have a somewhat higher average cost per kilowatt hour.

Twenty-nine out of every hundred wired homes are estimated to have electric washing machines, making a total of 3,300,000 machines, worth $412,500,000, in use at the end of 1923. The average value of each machine is estimated at $125. Estimated ratios per hundred wired homes for the other best-known and most widely used appliances are: Electric heaters, thirteen out of a hundred; toasters, twelve out of a hundred; sewing machines and percolators, five out of a hundred ; ironing ma-chines, two out of a hundred; dish washers, one out of a hundred. Data are not avail-able for other appliances.

Of all branches of the electrical appliance industry, radio has shown the most rapid rate of expansion in the past four years. Since November, 1920, when the first radio broadcasting for entertainment took place, it has become one of the most important branches of the electricalfield, although not of particular significance prior to that time.

Sales of apparatus are estimated by the trade to have jumped from around $2,000,000 in 1920 to $120,000,000 -- $150,000,000 in 1923 and $240,000,000 or more in the last year. The number of receiving sets in use has grown, according to rough estimates, somewhat as follows:
receiving sets
Over 300,000 farms in 1924 were equipped with receiving sets, according to a recent estimate, more than twice the number so equipped in 1923. There are considerably over five hundred broad-casting stations in operation at present. About seventy-five stations broadcast crop reports, the markets and the weather, in addition to the regular programs provided.

annaul sales of electrical appliances

Use of electricity has naturally developed more slowly on farms than in urban communities. Out of the 6,500.000 farms in the United States about 300,000 have isolated electric lighting plants, that is, plants in which the energy used is generated on the farm, and central station service is used on 200,000 to 300,000 farms. Of the remainder, it is estimated that 4,000,000 farmers are potential customers, while the purchasing power of the remaining 1,900,000 is too low to put them into the potential customer class. The heavy expense of rural electrification and resultant high cost of current are the reason for the small proportion of electrically equipped farms connected with central station lines. A mile of distribution line can serve 50 to 200 customers in a city; in the country the average is three customers to a mile. High voltage lines can be tapped to serve individual farms but the equipment necessary is too expensive to make this plan feasible.

In western states where irrigation is carried on on a large scale electrical energy is supplied by central stations, since the large amount used enables the companies to quote a fairly low rate per kilowatt hour. The proportion of electrified farms is much larger on the Pacific Coast, particularly in California, than in any other section of the country. Hydroelectric plants predominate in the Pacific and Mountain States, a natural development since nearly three-fourths of the available water power of the country is located there. In addition to the extension of cen- tral station lines in rural communities, the number of isolated electric plants on farms is increasing.

An experiment to test the use of electricity on the farm under actual conditions, the first of its kind to be attempted,is now being made in northern Minnesota through a cooperative agreement by the Federal Government, several farm organizations and an electric power company. Most of the farms on a six-mile power line have been supplied with electric cur-rent, and power and domestic appliances have been installed free of charge by the manufacturing companies. The current consumed and service are paid for by the farmers and accurate account of the operating costs is being kept. The University of Minnesota Agricultural College as a neutral agency has complete charge of the experiments which will aim to deter-mine the economic uses of electricity on the farm. So far no results have been published but the experiment has led to a number of changes in design of equipment used. Similar experiments have since been started in other states.

A recently completed survey of domestic market possibilities for electric household appliances shows that New York stands first as a potential buyer, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California and Ohio coming in the order named. Taking into consideration the various factors influencing the "inclination to purchase," New York with 10 per cent. of the country's population is regarded as a potential buyer of 11 per cent of domestic appliances. The corresponding percentages of the other states mentioned are, respectively: Pennsylvania, 8 and 9 per cent; Illinois, 6 and 7 per cent.; California, 3 and '6 per cent.; Ohio, 5 and 6 per cent. It has been found that this ratio of prospective purchasing to population is lowest' in the South and highest on the Pacific Coast. Newly built houses are usually wired as built and domestic appliances are quite likely to be installed at once. This is what has happened on the Pacific Coast. On the other hand, in older sections where houses were built before electricity was as commonly used as today and were therefore not wired, the tendency is to postpone installation, even when electricity is available. Giving due weight to heavier industrial use in the East, California stands first in the relative amount of current generated. New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois follow in the order given.

The electric light and power industry in the United States has shown an amazing development during the comparatively short space of its existence. The first electric lamp was marketed about 1880 and by 1885 the capitalization of commercial systems amounted to about $55,000,000. Capital and gross revenue from 1885 to 1924 are shown in Table B.

capital and gross revenue of commercial systems

Normally about 1,000,000 new residential customers per year are secured, although in 1923 the number was approximately 1,750,000. This, however, was a reflection of the building boom and not precisely a normal growth. The total in-crease in all new customers in 1923, 2,185,-000 or 18 per cent., was the largest ever re-ported. Residential customers have shown a far greater rate of increase for several years than power or commercial customers. The former increased 80 per cent. between 1919 and 1924, and power and commercial customers 44 per cent.

The use of electricity by the average domestic consumer does not decrease during periods of depression to such a degree as that used by commercial or industrial customers. The figures in Table C give the total energy consumed for lighting and for power in the different sections of the country for 1923 and 1924. They show a marked increase in the amount consumed for lighting in 1924 in all divisions as against 1923 and either a much smaller in-crease or a decrease in the amount of energy consumed by power or industrial consumers, with a net decrease for the country as a whole.

kilowatt hours of electricity generated 1923-1924

Although a large amount of energy is generated on the Pacific Coast transmission losses there average about one-fourth of the total amount produced on account of the long distances the current must be carried. For the country as a whole this loss is 19.3 per cent. Total kilowatt hours generated by electric light and power companies increased from 5,862,000,000 kilowatt hours in 1907 to 11,569,000,000 in 1912, more than doubled by 1917 when amount generated totaled 25,438,000,000 kilowatt hours, and again doubled by 1924, when output aggregated 53,937,000,000 kilowatt hours.

Public ownership of electric light and power plants is not growing so rapidly as private ownership. While municipally owned plants have increased in number, they have not increased in importance or in the number of customers served at the same rate as the commercial plants. There were on January 1, 1924, 5,826 operating companies in the United States, of which 3,701 were commercial systems and 2,125 municipal. Between 1907 and 1924 municipal plants increased from 27 to 36 per cent. of the total but between 1917 and 1923 the number of their customers de-creased from 15 to 10 per cent. of the total.

According to latest data available the average rate charged by municipal plants is about twice that charged by commercial companies, for municipal plants are generally more expensive to run, using on the basis of value over 10 per cent. of the fuel consumed to generate electricity, hiring more than 10 per cent. of all electric light and power employes, but making only 4 per cent. of all current sold. Company systems own 95 per cent. of the generating capacity in the country, the municipal plants the remainder. Many buy part or all their current from commercial systems.

Customer ownership of electric light and power stock, an innovation in public utility financing introduced ten years ago, has grown rapidly in that time. Begun in 1914 by several companies in California,which sold shares of stock to 4,044 customers, the movement gained tremendous impetus after the war. During 1923, 185 companies sold 1,806,300 shares to 279,186 of their customers. Table D, based on figures compiled by the National Electric Light Association, gives similar figures for the past ten years.

electric light and poweer stocks sold 1914 to 1923

It is estimated that about one-third of the $750,000,000 required in 1923 for construction programs was raised through customer investment. This method of marketing electric light and power securities has been effective in establishing popular confidence in these public utilities. For this purpose electric light and power corporations aim to sell shares to the small stockholder rather than to the capitalist.

The United States and Canada stand far ahead of the rest of the world in household use of electrical energy. Based on 1920 figures, about two-fifths of the United States' population live in electrically lighted homes, and approximately the same proportion in Canada. New Zealand stands next with 31 per cent., followed by Japan with 30, Denmark and Ice-land with 30, Switzerland with 26, Norway with 21, Belgium with 20, and Australia with 18 per cent. In the generation of cur-rent per inhabitant the figures are as follows : Switzerland, 700 kilowatt hours per inhabitant ; Canada, 612; Norway, 493; United States, 472; Sweden, 364; Union of South Africa, 199; France, 147; Germany, 141 Great Britain and Ireland, 139.

Canada's waterpower resources are extensive and, out of a potential 18,250,000 horse power available, 3,227,000 horse power has been developed. The extent of central station development in Canada parallels that in the United States and standards of living are about the same as in the United States. The appliance industry there is well developed, but imports of household appliances from the United States are still considerable. Hydroelectric development is advancing in Europe, especially in France, Norway and Italy. The Scandinavian countries are encouraging the use of electricity, especially in the rural sections, and its use is fairly general in France, Belgium and Rolland. The underdevelopment of the electric industry in Great Britain results in part from restrictive regulations, that have hampered the growth of central stations, and the high price of current to consumers. Water-power development has advanced considerably in Japan and the use of electric appliances has increased. A high percentage of its population lives in wiredhouses, but the average installation is small.

A great part of the world, however, can scarcely be considered potential customers for the present. Primarily because of its high price electricity is still beyond the means of many Europeans. Coal and fuel oil are expensive and power-plant development and equipment in Europe are considerably behind American plants in efficiency and operation. Factors that affect the expansion of the foreign field for household appliances are: Climate, prejudice against trying new things, a cheap and plentiful labor supply, limited purchasing power of people, general characteristics and temperament of people, and the possibilities for industrial use of current.

These same reasons, of course, limit the sale abroad of American appliances, al-though the domestic market is such that manufacturers prefer to give it most of their attention. In many foreign countries where the demand exists, American appliances are usually preferred. Domes-tic heating and cooking appliances ex-ported from the United States in 1923 were worth $984,471 against $596,895 in 1922 and a maximum valuation of $1,801,-127 in 1920. Exports of electric fans and motor-driven household appliances, which are not included in the first-mentioned classification, aggregated $1,724,906 in 1923 and $1,457,724 in 1922. During 1924 exports have kept up quite well, total shipments of these goods for eleven months showing an increase over the year's trade in 1923. The best markets for American goods are Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and Mexico.  
 J. B. C.