When we think of things our parents and grandparents had to live without, we tend, these days, to think about technology: laptops, tablets, smart phones, e-readers, GPS, and, of course, the internet. But most major advances in home appliances and goods happened in the 1950s, when many of our grandmothers were deep in caring for houses and kids. And while the big news like microwaves, self-defrosting refrigerators, and closed pilot lights on stoves hit during that era, the years since have come with some pretty major changes, too. Let’s take a minute to remember (or think about) what life was like before we had these 10 modern luxuries:
While the first in-freezer ice makers appeared in the early 1950s, they remained a luxury item well into the mid-eighties. The same goes for in-door cold water from the refrigerator. Your grandmother (and probably your mom) had to do it the old way, by freezing her fingers on metal trays or banging the plastic ones on the counter until they popped. She didn’t have the nifty trays that make cubes sized specifically for water bottles, either. But, then again, she probably didn’t have…
Bottled and jarred water was popular back before widespread chlorination, but not in the remarkable array of sizes and options we see today. In fact, bottled water is now the second best-selling commercial beverage in the U.S. and it’s available almost anywhere you want to shop. Of course, all those bottles tend to cause a problem of their own and many people cope by using curbside recycling or reusable water bottles, things granny also didn’t have.
Microwaves turned up in the late 1940s, but didn’t become widespread until years later. Plus, the early models were huge, heavy, expensive to buy and operate, and regrettably temperamental. For decades, only dishes blessed by the manufacturing gurus, which were often sold at healthy markups, could be placed in the unit and the oven required its own dedicated section of counter lest the airflow be blocked.
With the rise of individual pod coffee and tea, we tend to forget that the old-school coffeemaker has only been around for about 70 years – and that the original models needed a hardwired water supply. Well into the 70s, the percolator was still the go-to for coffee drinkers and a kettle the choice of tea fanciers.
Who doesn’t love their Swiffer or other automatic mop? They’re easy, quick, and much less messy than the old models. But before the Swiffer came a much more significant mop revolution, the 1992 invention of the self-wringing mop. Before that… let’s not think about before that.
7-11 is credited with opening the first 24-hour location in 1982, though the occasional mom and pop tried it earlier. Previously, there was no running to the store to satisfy a late-night craving and kids who left their class projects till the last minute were largely out of luck. Grandmoms certainly didn’t have Amazon, free home delivery, or subscription services. The closest were the Schwan’s and Jewel Tea men who made regular rounds to customers.
Once upon a time, the most expensive thing about a kid’s Christmas was the batteries – and since no stores were open 24/7, an inadequate supply on Christmas Eve pretty well ensured disappointment the next morning. Not only were batteries, themselves, high-priced, but virtually every new gadget and toy made from the 60s through the 00s required disposable batteries, partly thanks to the late-50s invention of alkalines. These days, a truly surprising number of items are rechargeable, including single-cell batteries in a variety of sizes.
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