Comforts of Home: The American House and the Evolution of Modern Convenience

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Clarkson Potter, 1999 - Architecture - 287 pages
The Age of Technology is nowhere made more personal than at home. Modern convenience shapes our daily routine, making today's American house a place of comfort, the like of which has never been known. Yet of all aspects of modern technology, it is the evolution of what is in the household that has been least written about.          InThe Comforts of Home, an unprecedented work written for a general audience with no particular knowledge of science or technology, social historian Merritt Ierley weaves in aspects of architecture, social history, and technology to present an underexplored but central feature of American cultural identity: how our lives are shaped by the domestic technology around us. Here we see a simple brick cubicle with a stove inside it evolve into central heating, a barrel with a large handle become the automatic washing machine, a box lined with charcoal birth the modern refrigerator, and the modern toilet develop from a rudimentary stone trough.          The Comforts of Homecharts the evolution of mechanical systems--from central heating to lighting, from kitchen to bathroom, from washing machine to vacuum cleaner--on which we all depend and without which most of us could hardly imagine surviving. It is also the story of the people responsible for the revolution of convenience in the home: people like Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, a British Loyalist, inventor and spy who fled his home in the American colonies in 1776. His genius of invention returned in the form of inventions with practical impact on everyday life in the household. Or like architects Benjamin Latrobe and James Gallier, Jr., who defined the cutting edge of modern convenience for their times.The Comforts of Homeis also the story of ordinary people like David and Ida Eisenhower, who provided their son Dwight and his brothers with a home that increased in comfort the way most American homes did--bit by bit, appliance by appliance, advance by advance--as new technology became cheaper and more widespread, and more a part of everyday life.          The story of the convenience of modern living is compellingly traced in this delightfully written book illustrated with nearly 200 photographs and vintage illustrations. Front and back illustrations, c. 1892, show a Standard Gas Machine apparatus that was used for supplying one's own home with illuminating gas in the age of gaslight (courtesy of Smithsonian Institution). Inset shows delivery of a 1960s automatic "Ice Maker" refrigerator (courtesy of Whirlpool Corporation).

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THE COMFORTS OF HOME: The American House and the Evolution of Modern Convenience

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A brief and remarkably dull history of the creature comforts, from indoor flush toilets to microwave ovens, that are taken for granted in homes today. Author Ierley (Open House, 1999) has made himself ... Read full review



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About the author (1999)

Merritt Ierley, a social historian, is the author of seven books relating to American history and technology, including the recently published Open House: A Guided Tour of the American Home. His other books include Traveling the National Road and With Charity for All: Welfare and Society, Ancient Times to the Present. He was the recipient of a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for The Comforts of Home. He lives in northern New Jersey.

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