If you were a kid back in the 1950’s, you may remember your parents complaining about the high costs of automated appliances like refrigerators and stoves. Items like electric washing machines and dryers, television sets, and other “home of the future” appliances were something most people had to save for. Now that you’re older, and the costs of household goods are what they are today, you can likely appreciate more your parents’ feelings about all the money it cost to run a comfortable household. Yet, $2,000 of your money today could have bought an entire household of large appliances back in the 1950’s! Here’s what you could have gotten…
1. An “ironing machine”, price $139.95. Even though this Kenmore Automatic Ironer looks more like professional cleaners equipment, these ironing machines were sold to consumers. Today, a few companies, Singer and Ironrite, make a more compact, comparable function automatic ironing machine for the cost of about $200-300.
2. Twin Top Oven with Griddle, price $184.85. This multi-tasking oven/stove top allowed you to bake, fry, and broil at the same time. Today’s modern, similar function machines cost anywhere from $1,249 to $2,449. That’s just under a 15-times increase in cost!
3. Common 2-slice toaster, price $21.95. A simple toaster like this was found in every 1950’s kitchen. Today, a simple model like this from different companies ranges anywhere from $40-100!
4. Common 21” black and white television set, price $339.95. Back in 1951, when this model of television was on the market, televisions were not the staple fixture of American living/family rooms that they are today because of their cost. Black and white televisions are not manufactured anymore, and 21” screens are usually only on computers now. But, a simple, comparable 22” television today has actually gone down in price to about $229 for a Samsung HDTV.
5. Automatic Refrigerator, price $339.25. Now, all households needed a refrigerator, so it’s safe to say most households had one. This 1952 vintage Coldspot offered many conveniences – automatic defrosting, larger freezer area, and even featured a car-type door lock with 2 sets of keys. Now, that’s a novel way to control kids snacking! But, look at all that wasted door space! Today’s basic refrigerators have increased in price about twice as much – but they have a lot more storage.
6. Washing machine/dryer set, price $494.90. You may be surprised to know that many people didn’t have washer/dryers at home in the 50’s. They were considered a bit of a luxury item. Most people had semi-automatic washing machines with a wringer up top that you had to feed washed clothes through. They hung clothes out to dry in the fresh air in good weather, or in their houses on drying racks. Others simply went to Laundromats. Today, washer/dryer combos are pretty standard in most American homes and cost about 2-3 times more than they did in 1953.
Around the end of the 1950’s – about 1957 onward – many new household appliance innovations were created. For example, the electric can opener that cost about $17.00, high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) sound phonographs – some combined with radios – for about $285.00 for a console, furniture version. Portable dishwashers came around about 1959 and were a major convenience to the “home engineer” – there were no hoses to connect to pipes, just attach a hose to the kitchen faucet, load it up with dirty dishes, and turn it on.
In fact, many of the appliances we take for granted in our modern homes today were just getting their start in the America of the 50’s. You likely remember being dazzled by their inventiveness, and your parents stymied by their cost, yet they were something for American families to dream about and strive for.