Despite the emphasis on earthy lifestyles in the 1970s, the use of small electric appliances proliferated. Sales of time-saving kitchen appliances, such as microwave ovens, blossomed along with the feminist movement. Vietnam War protests were peaking, and civil disobedience was becoming more mainstream -- even in the cabs of long-haul trucks where drivers used citizen band (CB) radios to avoid arrests for speeding.
During World War II, Raytheon corporation engineer Percy Spencer improved the magnetron tube Britain needed for microwave-radar detection of enemy aircraft. Spencer's ongoing magnetron research resulted in the 1945 discovery of cooking with microwaves. Two years later, Raytheon was selling commercial microwave ovens housed in refrigerator-sized cabinets for $2,000 to $3,000. In 1967, it introduced the first countertop microwave oven for $500.
Sales of the ovens boomed in the early 1970s as women joined the workforce and fear of microwave side effects diminished. In 1975, microwave oven sales exceeded those of gas ranges, according to J. Carlton Gallawa in his essay "A Brief History of the Microwave Oven." By 1976, Gallawa says, more U.S. households owned microwave ovens than electric dishwashers.
The forerunner of the modern dishwasher was a hand-powered machine invented by socialite Josephine Cochrane in 1886. It led to the first electrical models in the 1920s. As the number of two-income families increased in the 1970s, so did sales of dishwashers. The Highbeam Business website says that although few new appliances were invented in the late 20th century, manufacturers designed product improvements that attracted increasing numbers of buyers.
Small Home Appliances
By the end of the 1970s, small electrical appliances crowded home kitchen counters and cupboards. Electric crockpots, frying pans, crepe makers, juicers, donut makers, yogurt machines, can openers, coffee makers and mixers with ejectable beaters were all popular. But the queen of the decade's explosion of electrical gadgets was the home food processor, which was invented by Frenchman Pierre Verdon. An American engineer, Carl Sontheimer, brought Verdon's idea back to the U.S. and established the Cuisinart company. By the 1980s, Cuisinart was so popular that it was common to refer to all food processors as "cuisinarts."
Although introduced in the 1930s, electric typewriters didn't gain acceptance in the workplace until the 1950s. But it wasn't until the late 1970s that lots of affordable home models were available. Consumers had no way of knowing that electric typewriters would be antiquated in less than a decade as home computers began appearing in the early 1980s.
In the early 1970s, truck drivers didn't like being told that they could travel no faster than 55 miles per hour on interstate freeways. Then a device called the citizen's band (CB) radio came on the market and became a staple in the cabs of truckers interested in locating police cars and avoiding speed traps. A video at the History.com website notes that truckers began developing CB slang and adopting nicknames, referred to as "handles," to avoid detection. It notes that Hollywood romanticized rebellious truckers in movies such as "Smokey and the Bandit."
- Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communication and Computation; A Brief History of the Microwave Oven; J. Carlton Gallawa
- Wisconsin Historical Society; Early Electric Dishwasher; 2008
- Highbeam Business; Household Appliances, NEC; 2011
- Eat Me Daily; Natural History of the Kitchen -- Food Processor; Stephanie Butler; 2010
- Smithsonian Institution; Carbons to Computers -- The Typewriter; 1998
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