1907: ‘The Day of the Electric Kitchen…’

Good Housekeeping, Volume 45

Front Cover
C. W. Bryan & Company, 1907

Written at a time when electricity was still fairly new and not always a given, I find this article interesting for the things it brings up that we might take for granted today, so much so it doesn’t even occur to us (the lack of heat! the promiscuous use of matches in closets!).  It also kind of makes me think of the architect in the movie Christmas in Connecticut and how he wanted his own column in the housekeeping magazine.
To Keep Down the Light Bill By Ralph S Mueller

IN planning your house do not stint on the amount set aside for electric wiring. Any additional money spent while building for the purpose of arranging the wiring circuits and switches for the economical use of the electric current will pay a handsome return on the investment with each monthly service bill. Electric lighting is desirable not only because of its cleanliness, its comparative freedom from heat, and the safety in its use, but principally because of its all round convenience. When burned as freely as other illuminants electricity is expensive, but because of the ease with which it may be controlled it is possible so to wire and equip a house that all the features of its convenience may be enjoyed at a very reasonable cost. Most architects are not fully alive to all that may be done in this direction, and it is the purpose of this article to point out certain wiring provisions that should be embodied in one’s plans and specifications when building, as the work can be done at that time with a comparatively small additional expense.


In the first place, every hallway stairway and closet in the house should be wired for at least one lamp outlet, not forgetting the attic. This is worth while from the standpoint of fire protection alone as it does away with the promiscuous lighting of matches especially in closets full of inflammable clothing. The location of lamps in stairways and hallways, particularly cellar stairways, is further worth while as a means of preventing accidents. Under a flat rate system of charging the expense of operating such a general installation of lamps would be prohibitive but the flat rate system is now practiced only in comparatively few of the smaller towns. Under the straight meter system or the maximum demand system of charging it would work no hardship on the householder. In some cities the premises of each subscriber are given a rating which is in direct proportion to the number and candle power of the lamps installed. A certain price per unit is charged for up to a consumption equal to the subscriber’s rating and a certain reduced price per unit for all current in excess of the rating.  But even under this system hallway and closet lamps and any other lamps in similar locations are not considered when arriving at the rating. As the lamps in these locations may be of low candle power and as they are used so infrequently and then only for a moment practically the total expense of the pleasure they give is the cost of the original installation, certainly a small price to pay for the convenience and the fire and accident insurance they afford.

Do not fail to provide for a light in the ceiling of the front porch. It should be controlled by a switch placed just inside the front door. Such a light enables the departing guest to get safely down the porch stairs, and in the case of women being alone in the house they can size up a night caller before opening the door and refuse to open if he looks at all suspicious.  In the library, living room, and dining room one or more outlets should be wired in the baseboard to take the plugs of portable reading lamps, electric fans, and electric candelabra for dining table or sideboard. In the kitchen,  in addition to a drop light from the center of the ceiling, a bracket light near the sink is found to be very convenient. While the day of the electric kitchen is hardly at hand it would at least be well to plan for and conveniently locate an outlet for an electric flat iron.

For a night light in the bath room or upper hallway it is a good plan to use a two candle power lamp. One of these gives plenty of light for the purpose and when burning alone does not take enough current to start the mechanism of the meter so that nothing is recorded. No one now plans a bedroom without providing suitable locations for the bed dresser and chiffonier . These pieces of furniture being located the wiring can be planned. Bracket lights on each side of the dresser and chiffonier are an unending source of comfort. An outlet in the baseboard near the bed should not be overlooked. Frequent use for this will be found for a number of devices which are used with extension cords such as

 an electric hot water bottle or heating pad, an electric fan, electric massage machine, or an extension lamp with shade for those who read in bed. For the closet light the automatic door switch has not been found satisfactory. The lamp should be suspended from the ceiling by a cord and a socket containing a switch should be specified. The basement room into which the cellar stairs open should be illuminated by means of a lamp which is controlled by a switch at the head of the stairway. Such an arrangement renders it possible to make both the up and down trip on well lighted stairs. The lamp in the reception hall should be wired to switches which permit of turning it either off or on from either the head or foot of the front stairway. With these provisions a considerable economy may be effected as it is not necessary to let the lamp burn all evening yet the convenient switches save one from stumbling up or down an unlighted stairway.

Do not forget the telephone. While your electric light wiring is being installed, call in the telephone company to whose service you expect to subscribe. The company will gladly put in its wires at that time without charge and the advantage to you lies in the fact that they may be entirely concealed in the walls. If you are to have a combination front and back stairway locate the telephone if possible at the common platform. The bell may then be heard from any point in the lower or upper floors .  The maid may readily answer the calls from the kitchen and a trip only half way up or down the stairs is all that is necessary to reach the instrument.  In the case of a physician’s home wiring for an extension telephone set in the bedroom should be installed.

In some cities the annual charge for an extension set may be avoided by paying the telephone company a nominal charge for installing jacks at the respective downstairs and bedside locations. Then the one desk set type of telephone may be used downstairs in the day time and carried upstairs and plugged into the jack in the bedroom at night. A bedside telephone to call the police is much appreciated by a timid woman.

Clusters of lamps on electroliers should be divided into two or more groups and each group controlled by a separate switch. In the case of all lamps controlled by a switch in the socket the chain pull type of socket switch will be found the most convenient. Direct rays from an electric light with a clear globe are very irritating to the eyes For this reason frosted lamps should be used on all side wall or bracket lamps which are not to be fitted with shades. The frosting cuts down the efficiency of the lamp by ten or twelve per cent but the mellow restful light resulting makes the sacrifice well worth while. One of the most effective means of keeping down the monthly light bill is the judicious use of low candle power lamps. In the basement attic and closets eight candle power lamps will be found sufficient while ten candle power lamps may be used in the kitchen, hallways, bedrooms, and the bathroom.  The present day fashion calls for a large heavy ornamental shade hung directly over the dining room table.  While an ordinary thirty two candle power lamp is generally seen in this fixture it is better to use one of the reflecior type lamps which the electrical supply stores are now offering.  In this particular use downward light is all that is desired, any upward light is wasted. These reflector lamps can be had which give thirty two candle power of downward light but consume only as much current as the ordinary sixteen candle power lamp.

Another point to watch is the efficiency of the lamps you use. Of two lamps giving sixteen candle power one may take twenty five per cent more current than the other. It is well worth while to buy the better grade of lamps even though they may cOst a trifle more and will not last as long. The reason is that the saving in meter bills with the use of the high efficiency lamps more than offsets the extra expenss for the lamps. In some cities the electric light company furnishes renewal lamps free. But even in cities where they do not they offer lamps for sale and it is always best to buy of them because with what has been called enlightened self interest they offer only lamps that give their rated candle power with the least practical consumption of current TO KEEP DOWN THE LIGHT BILL

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