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The 1950s - A decade of change

After years of rationing and shortages, the 1950s were a period of economic prosperity, high employment and great technological development. Many returned servicemen got married, established homes and raised families. During this period, Australians enthusiastically adorned their homes with a dazzling range of new domestic appliances. Hire-purchase schemes allowed people to take products home and pay for them in instalments.

During the 1950s, the role of women was generally considered to be that of the 'homemaker'. Bright television and magazine advertisements encouraged women to stay at home and create a domestic haven for their families using the new appliances on offer. These devices promised to raise standards of living and release housewives from the shackles of household chores.

Electric stoves, refrigerators, toasters and kettles revolutionised the kitchen, and vacuum cleaners and washing machines shaved hours off time spent cleaning. Women could enjoy more leisure time while still creating a clean, comfortable home for their families. Many women chose to join the paid workforce, changing the shape of the Australian labour market forever.

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Home appliances also came to symbolise the success and modern outlook of their owners and were often displayed in the lounge room for visitors to admire.

By the end of the 1950s, many small appliances that were at first considered luxuries, like kettles and electric mixers, were now considered 'must-have' items. Other appliances, like washing machines and refrigerators, however, were still expensive and out of reach for many families.

1960s - Mass production and disposable appliances

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, developments in manufacturing technology led to a huge increase in mass production. This included the production of electrical appliances. Coupled with an increasingly prosperous economy, mass production meant that most appliances became not just affordable, but essential parts of everyday life.

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Manufacturers, however, realised that they were facing a major problem. If they continued to design high-quality products that lasted decades, then consumers would have no reason to keep buying their products. Thus, many manufacturers began to produce lower-quality appliances that were designed to be thrown out and replaced rather than repaired. This forced people to continually purchase new appliances.

In order to sell more products, manufacturers also created more diverse, innovative products that boasted a variety of features. Irons, for example, now came with useful improvements like thermostats (a device that regulates temperature) - which rendered previous models of irons obsolete.

1960s - Design considerations

The aesthetic qualities of domestic appliances became a prime consideration for consumers in the late 1950s. The appearance of early home appliances bore many similarities to heavy industrial factory equipment - an attempt by manufacturers to emphasise the efficiency of their products. Such designs, however, tended to make appliances look more like hard work than a pleasurable experience.

Many people also liked to display appliances in their lounge rooms as show pieces rather than hide them away in the kitchen and laundry.

As a result, manufacturers altered the design of home appliances. Rather than looking like pieces of industrial machinery, appliances became smoother, shinier and more stylish and available in a variety of colours.

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1970s and 1980s

By the 1970s, owning a wide range of home appliances was deemed essential for daily living.

Microwave ovens did not gain widespread popularity in Australia until the early 1980s, although they had been commercially available since the late 1950s. Microwaves revolutionised food preparation - making it possible to defrost, cook or reheat food in very little time, and prompting a growth in the consumption of frozen convenience meals.

Other popular kitchen appliances of the 1980s included food processors and blenders, which also made cooking quicker and easier.

Energy efficiency

In the late 1980s and 1990s, developments in Australian home appliances focused on energy efficiency. Environmental awareness was at an all-time high and studies had found that home appliances were a major source of electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
The government introduced a product labelling program, whereby the energy efficiency of an appliance was clearly displayed. This encouraged consumers to buy the most environmentally-friendly option available.

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In the 1990s, manufacturers were also subject to stricter environmental regulations. Appliances like refrigerators were required to become more energy efficient, while dishwashers and washing machines were designed to reduce water consumption.

1990s - Environmentalism and the era of improvement

Many of the home appliances used by Australians in the 1990s were essentially the same ones used in the 1950s, albeit with minor improvements and added features. Some brand new appliances were also available - consumers could choose from an incredible array of machines that would make cappuccinos, bake bread, churn homemade ice cream and even blow the leaves off their driveways.

Advances in home appliance technology led to the introduction of different plastics and other new materials. Thermoplastics increased strength and durability and other plastics reduced the weight of appliances, which in turn lowered transport costs. A 'noise-free' dishwasher was released in the early 1990s and manufacturers developed quieter motors and new, sturdier types of metal and glass.

Environmental impact of home appliances in the 1990s

Constant modification meant that home appliances in the 1990s quickly became outdated. The design of most appliances also made them difficult and expensive to repair and many devices were often discarded after a short period of time. Large numbers of old home appliances began to pile up in landfill areas.

Throughout the 1990s, concerns were raised about the environmental consequences of dumping home appliances in landfill. Many appliances, especially older ones, contained toxic substances like lead, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), oil and grease. These substances could leach into soil and water and have serious health and environmental effects.

Disused appliances also began to use up valuable landfill areas in densely populated regions, where landfill space was fast becoming a scarce resource.

As a result, the use of high energy-consuming appliances and the large-scale dumping of home appliances in landfill areas became less socially acceptable towards the end of the 1990s. People were encouraged to think carefully about the level of waste they were contributing to landfill and to consider their energy use in the home when buying and maintaining appliances.

Social impact of home appliances in the 1990s

Time savers or time suckers?

When launched in the 1950s, home appliances were hailed as the key to relieving women from hours spent on household tasks. By the 1990s, the responsibility of performing most household chores still primarily fell on women, but research found that domestic appliances may not have actually saved women a great deal of time at all.

This peculiarity may be explained by the fact that as consumption increased throughout the decades, the quantity of household chores also increased. Washing machines, for example, may have reduced the time it took to wash clothes, but the amount of clothes people owned in the 1990s had dramatically increased. Also, home appliances may have made Australians more efficient, but the general level of home cleanliness that was considered acceptable had also risen.

Fancier kitchens, fewer home-cooked meals

Despite owning more appliances, Australians in the 1990s spent less time preparing meals than in the past.

In the 1940s, Australians spent around six hours per day purchasing and preparing food. By the 1970s, this had dropped to two hours. By the end of the 1990s, many Australians ate a large proportion of take-away or supermarket convenience meals, and spent just 30 minutes in the kitchen each day.


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