Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cooking by Electricity in 1911.

When did electrical cooking really become the standard in home kitchens? The invention of the electric cooking range is credited to Thomas Ahearn in 1882, although patents for small electrical cooking appliances had been granted in the USA from about 1859. The large electricity-producing companies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were behind the development of many these appliances, as it was assumed that these would help to drive the demand for electrification of towns.

The New York Edison Company produced a small booklet called Recipes for Cooking by Electricity, in 1911. The recipes in this small book are for tabletop electrical appliances, such as the cooking plate, griddle, chafing dish, waffle iron, frying kettle, and percolator – not electric stoves. It was not until the 1930’s that domestic electric stoves began to replace those run on gas.

The introduction to the book reads:

The devices shown in this little book will be of interest to every housekeeper and will add greatly to the comforts of home. There are also some helpful suggestions as to how to get the best results from the various articles of electric heating and the best way to care for them.
On the following pages will be found a few simple and economical recipes which have been selected with great care. They are particularly well adapted to the electric chafing dish or stove which may be used on the dining room table and connected to the electric lamp socket.

The first new appliance described in the booklet is one that we take for granted nowadays - the toaster.

The Electric Toaster.
Turn the current on the toaster about two minutes before you are ready to use it. Have the bread cut in even slices about one-half inch thick; trim off the crust. The toaster will hold two large slices or four small slices at one time and will brown nicely on both sides in about one minute.
                           The toaster can be used for 15 minutes at a cost of 1 ¼ cents.

And a recipe for one of my favourite dishes (although it should be ‘Welsh Rabbit’!)

Welsh Rarebit

2 lbs. American cheese
1 teaspoonful of butter
I teaspoonful of English mustard
I tablespoonful of Worcestershire sauce
A few drops of Tobasco sauce
The yolk of one egg               
½ glass of ale.

Turn the current on to full heat in the electric chafing dish. Have the water boiling in the lower part, then put the butter in the blazer, and when melted add the cheese and stir until the cheese begins to melt. Add the mustard, Tobasco and Worcestershire sauces, and stir in the ale. Keep on stirring until the mixture is perfectly smooth, and then add the yolk of the egg, well beaten. Serve on nicely browned slices of toast, or on toasted crackers.
Cost of current is l ½ cents for making a rarebit of this size.


Peter Hertzmann said...

The answer to your introduction question: "When did electrical cooking really become the standard in home kitchens?" is after the Second World War. The 1859 invention that you mention is for a basic electrical heating element by Geo. B. Simpson, U.S. Patent 25,532 "Improved Electrical heating Apparatus". The Ahearn invention, Canadian Patent 39,916, is for an electric oven, not a range. I have not found any evidence of this device ever being installed and used in any place other than the Ottawa Windsor Hotel, held a demonstration dinner on August 29, 1892. Ahearn held the monopoly on electrical power generation in the Ottawa region.

As Carl Piper states in the Purdue University Bulletin Electric Ranges in 1919: "The year 1890 or 1891 may be taken as the date which marks the first practical attempt to make electrically heated cooking apparatus."

All early electrical devices suffered from a lack of reliable resistance wire. The solution came in 1906 when Albert Marsh invented nichrome wire (U.S. Patent 811,859). The following year, Marsh patented an "Electric Stove" (U.S. Patent 852,338), in reality a hotplate, using his patented resistance wire.

Early adoption of electric appliances was hindered both by lack of electrical distribution and sufficient amperage. Light sockets were invented long before wall outlets, and many early electrical appliances were designed to plug into the light socket.

Electric appliance were also more expensive to purchase and operate. In 1927, the General Electric "Monitor Top" refrigerator sold for about the same price as a Ford Model-T automobile. A non-electric refrigerator sold for less than a tenth the price.

I've given a number of talks about the history of stoves and refrigerators and have gathered a fare amount of information on the subject, which is all available for download at http://dl.hertzmann.com/moah.zip. (It's a large file [843MB] so it takes a fair amount of time to download.) It contains

1744 > Franklin: An Account of the New-invented Pennsylvanian Fire-places
1802 > Rumford: On the Construction of Kitchen Fire-places and Kitchen Utensils
1833 > Mechanics Magazine: Modern stewing hearth and roasting oven
1892 > McClary Mfg. Co: Stove Catalogue
1893 > Popular Science: Electricity at the World’s Fair
1914 > Mercer: The Bible in Iron
1917 > Electrical Review and Western Electrician [excerpts]
1919 > Piper: Electric Ranges
1919 > The Electric Range Handbook
1928 > The Calrod Story [movie]
2004 > Nagengast: Electric Refrigerators Vital Contribution to Households

plus 1,417 patents, advertisements, and service manuals

The Old Foodie said...

Amazing, Peter! Thankyou so much for this fantastic summary - and for the link to your file. I am constantly I awe of the willingness of experts to share their hard work so freely. And I love the Internet for making it so easy to share.

Anonymous said...

No, "rarebit" is correct.