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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The modernization of the American home kitchen, 1900-1960
by Mock, Michelle, Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University, 2011, 319; 3455966
Abstract (Summary)

The essential elements of the modern kitchen, one designed for efficiency, connected to the power grid, a safe place for families to gather, and important to American nationalism, came together in the first half of the twentieth century through efforts of consumers, home economists, government agencies, and manufacturers alike. I argue that the making of the modern kitchen can best be understood as a series of intersections between cultural and technological systems. This two-pronged approach reveals how the home kitchen became the most technologically saturated room in the early twentieth-century American home and a cultural space imbued with strong values, customs, and nostalgia. This study contributes to the history of technology as well as of domesticity and consumer culture. Drawing on a variety of government, home economics, marketing, and consumer advocacy sources, as well as thousands of letters from ordinary women seeking expert advice, I chart the efforts of a diversity of historical actors—some well-known and some forgotten—that shaped the modern kitchen.

At the turn of the century, home economists, like Christine Frederick, helped women design their kitchens using the principles of scientific management to make them convenient and efficient. Electric utilities as well as manufacturers depicted the modern kitchen as an electric and using Reddy Kilowatt as a case study, I examine how they emphasized electricity's value to homemakers as a domestic worker beginning in the 1920s. Consumer advocacy groups, like Consumers' Research and the Bureau of Home Economics, organized in the same decade to protect households against faulty products and inefficient purchasing thereby ensuring the safety of the modern American kitchen. Two New Deal agencies, the Electric Home and Farm Authority and Rural Electrification Administration reshaped the appliance, electric utility, and finance industries to lower purchase and usage costs, making electric refrigerators and ranges affordable to the mass market. During World War Two, American kitchens had implications for Allied success as women maintained their appliances and took up traditional tasks like gardening and home canning. After the war, the home kitchen was central to postwar consumption and Cold War political staging.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Sandage, Scott A.
School: Carnegie Mellon University
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 72/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, American history, Modern history, Social structure
Keywords: Consumer research, Electrification, Home front, Kitchen design, Kitchens, New Deal, Reddy Kilowatt
Publication Number: 3455966
ISBN: 978-1-124-64945-0
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