Household Gadgets in the 1930s

Written by gail cohen
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Household Gadgets in the 1930s
Some 1930s kitchen gadgets are proving to be valuable collector's items. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

When director Todd Haynes obtained the rights to remake the award-winning movie "Mildred Pierce" as a five-episode TV miniseries starring Kate Winslet in 2011, he insisted on absolute decor authenticity. The finished 1931-era kitchen set proved a perfect reflection of the decorating sensibilities of the 1930s homemaker, right down to the colours, kitsch and gadgets. See for yourself how many details are pitch perfect if you catch or rent this classic remake -- and look for the following gadgets, too.

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Cook Dinner With Two Light Bulbs

Imagine a giant pot large enough to boil lobsters for a crowd and you'll have a good mental image of the hob oven that made the pages of the December 1930 issue of "Popular Science" magazine. The giant metal gadget had insulated walls and was fitted with two 150-watt electric bulbs. A homemaker could put all of her dinner ingredients into the pot and have a complete meal ready for her family in three hours without having to turn on the oven. A special insert even allowed a cook to bake muffins at the same time she cooked dinner.

Indoor Trash Incinerator

Listed among the items featured in "Thirteen New Aids Designed for the Busy Housewife," an article appearing in the December 1930 issue of "Popular Mechanix," was an incinerator that literally burnt food waste, scraps and other trash right in the kitchen. Engineered to be installed under a gas range, the unit was designed to vent through the stovepipe so the kitchen didn't fill with smoke. The people producing this innovative gadget were quite enthusiastic about its potential, but since a market for indoor incinerators never developed, chances are this invention proved impractical, if not downright dangerous.

It's "Practically Automatic"!

The manufacturer extolled the virtues of a newfangled can opener introduced in 1930 as being "practically automatic," but nothing could be further from the truth. Not only was this gadget huge, bulky and downright ugly, but it required a decent chunk of dedicated counter space to keep it anchored. While one end of the contraption held the can in place, the operator turned a handle to remove the lid. Besides being awkward and unattractive, the gadget lost aesthetic appeal from the clamping rig or screws and bolts required for installation. Practically automatic? A poor choice of words, even from a company looking for buyers.

It's an Orchestra Leader. No, It's a Blender.

Popular 1930s orchestra leader Fred Waring was so well-known that when the Waring Company introduced its blender to American housewives, everybody thought Fred made the gadget as well as orchestrating musical arrangements. Fact is, the musician agreed to fund the concept repeatedly, even after prototypes failed. This complex gadget took a long time to be developed, but engineers (and Waring) never wavered. The first Waring blender was showcased as the Miracle Mixer at Chicago's 1937 National Restaurant Show.

The Most Popular Gadget of All

It's hard to imagine a product being more popular than the Waring blender, but since the Sunbeam Mixmaster did so much in the kitchen, it was proclaimed the most famous and versatile gadget introduced in the 1930s. Housewives from coast to coast fell in love with their Mixmasters from the moment they first appeared on department store shelves in May 1930. Even today, 1930s-era Mixmasters generate big bucks for antiques dealers and gadget collectors. If you've got one, have it appraised immediately.

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