Abstract: Better Living through Electricity: How Electric Appliance Advertising Leveraged Social Trends in Early 20th Century America

Erika L. Paulson and Mary E. Schramm


The urban American home underwent dramatic changes during the early 20th century. The emergence of the home economics movement redefined the woman as a household manager and urged women to make intelligent buying decisions based on factors including economy, efficiency, and quality.  Simultaneously, the “servant problem” developed as domestic servant availability decreased. The advent of electricity in homes was driving adoption of electric appliances. During this period, advertising was using ever more colorful and persuasive advertisements to encourage women to be consumers. And yet, the relationship between the home economics movement and advertising, and the influence of the “servant problem” and electricity in the home, has not been explored. We ask how advertising appeals leveraged the home economics movement to sell electric household appliances. The results of our content analysis, of more than 400 ads from Good Housekeeping from 1916 to 1929, reveal that key components of the home economics movement, along with the “servant problem” and implications of electric service in the home, were reflected in the period’s advertising for electric household appliances.