Jack Santoro is the Founder and Historian of the Old
Appliance Club. He has been restoring antique ranges and refrigerators for 25 years and is
the editor of The Old Road Home Vintage Appliance Quarterly.
INT: Which appliances have had the most
impact on society?
JS: Positively, refrigerators and stoves.
The large appliances really dramatically changed things for Americans, actually for people
all over the world. Years ago, before there were appliances, if you wanted to wash your
clothes, you had to boil water, and then you had to make soap. You had to boil the clothes
out, and use a scrub board. When they started to invent washing machines you didn't have
to do that. Once people got used to using electricity to make food - for boiling things
and stuff like that - it was incredible. If you wanted to cook food in the old days, you
had to use a wood or a cold fire. That took a long time to really know how to regulate and
tons of meals, I'm sure, were wasted.
INT: After new appliances were invented,
what did it take to convince people of their value?
JS: Housewives were doing most
cooking then. They really had to be convinced that these things (such as the electric
range) were actually going to be able to do this kind of work. General Electric was
working on electric ranges and they would have promotional tours. They would have a home
economist go out and give demonstrations at all the electrical utility offices throughout
the United States. People would come in to pay their bills and they would see the
equipment and the cakes and pies that you could make, it was all set up. General Electric
would show how you could use all of these appliances and how much easier it would be, how
much cleaner the house would be when you didn't use wood and coal. The stuff was pretty
drab looking in the beginning, but it only took like a few years and then they started to
get into designing them and changing the colors. With the added convenience of
being able to cook without having to chop wood or go and get coal or bend over a tub and
scrub all kinds of clothes and stuff, you know, that was a tremendous milestone.
INT: How has the way that people find out
about appliances changed? Obviously there was less mass marketing in the early days.
JS: The idea was to go straight to the
consumer. They would send salesmen out on the road with samples of a product. And they
would go into a general store in the middle of Idaho and would demonstrate the
product. Most of the time, they probably had a hard time convincing people. Maybe they
would leave one or two machines there for them to try for a month or two. Maytag, back in
about the 1920s, had a guy called Cowboy Joe Long. He was a cow punch from Texas and he
used to have a couple of different burros. On the left and the right hand side of the
saddle they had a special carrier and they would have these small Maytag washing machines
that they would bring out on the range to different ranches. They would bring their
little mule train and Joe would come out and demonstrate. There was no electricity out
there. So what Maytag did is they make a motor that had a pedal and you'd press down on
the pedal and jump-start it. It would be a gasoline engine.
INT: How do appliances vary from nation to
JS: The rest of the world looks to the
American market for direction. There are toasters that were made here in the 1920s and
'30s and '40s that will be made in Europe today, and they look the same way. And one way
they might be better is that they would copy a design, and instead of welding pieces
together like on a mass production line, they would screw all the parts together with
little screws and nuts and bolts. That's the kind of thing you can just take it apart and
fix it. If you go to Mexico, people are still using appliances that would be tossed away
here, even stuff from the '70s and '80s. None of that is thrown away. They will make that
work again. In Mexico you will see ranges from the early days and into the 1940s and '50s
and everybody's still using them.
INT: Do you believe that appliances were
better constructed in the earlier half of the century than they are today?
JS: My company has restored or refurbished
over 17,000 ranges since 1973. You could easily see that no recycled metals were used to
make the older ranges. All of that stuff was premium top grade equipment. That's the only
reason why it's even still around. The quality is absolutely there. Plus, they're very
simple. And so when you have simplicity you can repair it with just hand tools (unless it
requires some kind of welding). In my house I've got a 1935 General Electric monitor top
refrigerator that has never been repaired once. It's still working great. That's typical.
You'll find refrigerators from the early line - 1927, some even pre 1927 - and they're
still working great.
For information about The Old Appliance Club, contact Jack
Post Office Box 65,
Ventura, California 93002
Phone: (805) 643-3532
The Old Appliance
Club Shop - for parts, information, free consultation, estimates,
thermostats, electrical elements, safeties...
listing of other publications, TV, and radio website interviews:
Street Journal-1995, Natural Gas Dailies, LA Times, Antique Trader,
BrandWise, Good Housekeeping magazine, Independent Business magazine,
Business '99, Renovation Style, The New Yorker, Frontier House PBS series,
The Old House Journal magazine, syndicated columnists, Ann and Nan,
Mr. Handyperson - Mark Hett, This Old House, Collectors Magazine and Price
Guide, Cabin Life, libraries and museums throughout the country including
The Smithsonian Library.