No, this woman is not using a dishwasher because it has not been invented yet.
Paul Krugman and Tyler Cowen discuss the lack of technological innovation in kitchens over the last 50 or so years and McArdle doesn't agree; why, just look at all the labor-saving appliances that she has!
I'm not sure I know what it means to cook in a 1950s-era kitchen. I've lived in a kitchen that was installed in 1953, and still had the original refrigerator. But was it really a 1953 kitchen? Everything else had been repaired many times over, because neither appliances nor cabinetry often last for fifty years of hard use.
For that matter, how should we define what a 1953 kitchen was? Is it a kitchen with anything that had been invented by the time? Or is it a kitchen with the things that an average income family could afford? Surely it must matter not merely that something existed, but that it was cheap enough to become widespread?
If she had read the source material that she is supposedly commenting on she would understand what the gentlemen are talking about. In the first half of the last century we went from chopping wood and cutting ice to electrical grids and natural gas lines. Since then there have not been any major technological advances that would have a similar breakthrough change in the way we do housework. I still use electricity and gas to heat and cool, even if my electrical and gas appliances are better than the early models. The closest we come to a revolution in cooking is the microwave oven, which uses microwaves to heat instead of gas or electricity, but it is still an electrical appliance. And it was invented in 1946, although it wasn't developed and put on the market until 1967.
But the articles give McArdle an excuse to talk about herself, her new house, and her kitchen appliances, so she's off to the races!
As it happens, my kitchen--a galley kitchen in an urban apartment--was probably typical of 1953 in terms of major appliances (a stove and a refrigerator) and cupboard space. And yet, in some of the most important respects, it still wasn't a 1953 kitchen. 1953 kitchens did not have electric drip coffee brewers, stand mixers, blenders, food processors, or crock pots.
Yes, they did.
1. A "Morissharp Pencil Sharpener" made by the Ben F. Morris Company of Los Angeles (all bakelite case) for more about this (including the Patent Diagram) see our page on Waterfall Furniture
2. An immersion heater for boiling water in a cup without recourse to a teapot
3. An Egg Poacher -- scroll on down just a few lines to see hundreds of them
4. A bakelite slide projector
5. An ultra-violet "Gro-lamp" to keep your plants happy indoors
6. A Farfisi "Clavinette Pianorgan" -- a very cheap, cheesy electronic piano/accordion that became the backbone of reggae music. ( The Farfisa "Pianorgan" series of chord/reed organs as well as the larger uprights were made in the mid-to-late 50's by the famous Scandalli accordion company. The founders of "Farfisa" were Silvio Scandalli and Settimio Soprani back in the late 40's. The name "Farfisa" stands for FAbbriche Riunite di FISArmoniche (The United Accordion factories).)
7. A Detecto "bugeye" Scale, so named for the magnification lens that enabled the scale to be read without bending over. (More details on our Knicknacks Page)
8. A very early airless paint sprayer
9. An Ice crusher
10. A Waring Blender - scroll down on this page to learn more
11. A very early electric insect trap or "bug zapper"
12. A personal coffee grinder
13. A very early home espresso machine (see our Coffee page for more detail)
14. A foot vibrator, the grandfather of today's "shiatsu" massagers
15. A shoe polisher (the staple of every executive washroom)
16. A window fan
17. (a) and (b) Intercom receiver units
18. An electric plate warmer, similar to an electric blanket
19. An ice cream maker
20. A home tanning light
That photo is from 1959, but the Sumbeam mixer "was first marketed in 1930." A housewife wouldn't have a food processor but it is not a major technological innovation anyway--it was based on "an elaborate industrial blender." Blenders were invented in 1922. Rationing ended in 1954 so perhaps that date would be a better starting point, but electric mixers and coffee percolators were available. And my Chambers stove from the 1940s has a heat-retention system and a well with pot inserts to do slow cooking while the stove was off, using retained heat. But McArdle seems to think that minor technological innovations are the same as a new electrical grid.
I used at least one of these, and often two or more, every day. Saran Wrap, aluminum foil, and tupperware were novelty products; my 1950 Betty Crocker picture cookbook contains instructions for storing food using waxed paper and damp towels, because that's how the majority of housewives did it. The book also assumes that its readers will cream butter and sugar by hand for cakes, percolate or boil their coffee, beat egg whites with a rotary beater, and so forth. Anyone who has attempted to beat egg whites by hand can attest that the transition to electrically-assisted baking is not a small improvement. (Men, who tend not to bake as much as women, may be prone to overlook this.)
Again, mixers existed in the '50s. Saran was invented in 1933 and developed as Saran Wrap in 1956. Aluminum foil began rolling off factory lines in 1910. Tupperware was introduced in 1946 and "its popularity exploded in the early 1950s." And none are major technological advances in housework. What is she babbling about?
My pots and pans are also vastly higher quality--aside from the privileged few who could afford copper, most Americans were cooking on thin, low-quality stainless steel and aluminum pans that deformed easily and had hot spots.
I thought they cooked with cast iron, the way older women still do sometimes in the South. And pots are not a major technological advance either.
While I'm obviously an outlier--a guest at my birthday party this weekend gaped and said "What do you do with all those pans on your wall?" most Americans still have substantially better quality cookware than they used to. Nonstick is a major innovation, even if it has degraded the quality of pan-searing.
It's still just a pan on an electric or gas stove, but if mindless consumerism makes her happy, then she should go for it.
McArdle blathers on about free trade, shipping and air conditioners, but continuously manages to miss the point. She does, however, get her own point across: This is the best of all possible times in the best of all possible worlds. And she is the luckiest goddam pundit in the world to be paid to write this.
ADDED: McArdle tweets:
asymmetricinfo Megan McArdleI am, for once, speechless.
Yes, I just spent virtually all day researching the history of kitchen appliances. http://bit.ly/dNiEtJ
31 Jan Favorite Retweet Reply