Wednesday, July 6

How the first electrical appliances arrived in Spanish homes


During the first third of the 20th century, especially in the years after the end of the First World War, a considerable increase in electricity consumption was recorded in Spain. This advance was favored by the limited penetration that gas had had until then in homes, whether for lighting, cooking or heating. Electricity subscribers were concentrated in the cities, and their growth was driven by the progressive lowering of their price.

Today we have statistics on energy consumption in homes and on electrical appliances present in homes. Unfortunately, we don’t have that information for the decades before the Civil War, when the first electrical appliances for housework made their appearance.

Therefore, to reconstruct the process of electrification of Spanish homes in that period, we are forced to turn to other documentary sources.

Advertising is a source of light

The printed advertisements inserted in the press of those years offer valuable information about the products that were marketed, what the manufacturers and brands were, their price or their technical characteristics. They also tell us about the mentalities and the sociological reality of the moment, as well as the changes that took place in domestic work and in the homes of the wealthy Spanish classes, which became more comfortable, comfortable and pleasant for their inhabitants with the arrival of the first electrical appliances.

In the first moment, electricity consumption in homes was used for lighting homes. Proof of this is the proliferation of advertisements for incandescent lamps from different companies and brands, most of them foreign, such as Nitra, Egmar, Osram, Tántalo, Wotan, Metal, Lamp Z, Ray and Philips. In their advertising they always highlighted the quality of the product, alluding to its resistance and solidity, and claimed to be the longest lasting and least energy consuming.

The cost of the electricity bill was a concern for the vast majority of families who could enjoy it. A large manufacturer like Philips took advantage –advertisingly speaking– of this concern, with the launch in 1932 of a large national campaign entitled “War on the cheap lamp”, which included slogans such as “A simple calculation proves that more than 10,000,000 pesetas are wasted in Spain”, “Do not use lamps in your home that uselessly devour electricity” and “Philips lamps save millions of pesetas in the national electricity bill. the light”.



Competition stimulated increased investment in advertising and the use of new formulas to gain favor with consumers. A novelty was what we now call social advertising. In 1936 the manufacturer of the Osram lamp launched one of these campaigns, which was focused on the concern for eye health, to show that it was not only trying to sell its product but also cared about the well-being of the population.

To this end, it created the slogan “Take care of your eyesight using better light”, and a brochure with information and advice entitled Good vision with artificial lighting.

Light bulbs were one of the most publicized consumer items in Spain in the first third of the 20th century. But other devices that worked with electricity began to spread through the homes of the main cities of the country in the 1920s and first half of the 1930s.

appliances and homework

Thanks to advertising, many Spaniards became familiar with the first electrical appliances launched on the market, both small and large, which served to facilitate the performance of domestic tasks. Irons, stoves, toasters, kettles, fans, stoves, vacuum cleaners, floor polishers or refrigerators… and also the first devices for home entertainment, such as radios, record players, electric player pianos and even small film projectors.



Many of these items –in their different makes and models– were beyond the budgets of most Spanish families, given their high selling price and the low living standards of the time. But several factors made possible the spread of household appliances, at least in the largest cities in the country.

First, the economic growth of the country in the years after the First World War, with the consequent improvement in the living conditions of the population.

Second, the growing competition between manufacturers of electrical items, which launched a greater number of models of different devices on the market, including simpler models with cheaper prices.

Finally, the new commercial techniques that were beginning to be used in the shops of the large Spanish cities, such as sales on credit and installment sales, which facilitated their acquisition by salaried middle-class families.

It is very striking in this regard that, in the first advertisements for electric refrigerators, such as those of the North American brand Frigidaire, the families of the Madrid aristocracy who had acquired them were mentioned. But already in the mid-thirties advertising slogans revealed the desire of manufacturers to reach a wider audience. “A model for every home”, read in a 1935 Kelvinator advertisement. And the Crosley brand, which in 1931 offered six different models in a price range of between 1,490 and 3,250 pesetas, was advertised as “More economical in cost and consumption. Greater capacity. maximum guarantee.

The first vacuum cleaners were a great novelty, promoted by their manufacturers as effective tools in the fight against disease. They eliminated “microbes and germs, causing diseases as terrible as tuberculosis, laryngitis, influenza and a thousand others”, according to an Electrolux advertisement from 1923.



They also tried to impress the public with technicalities: “Avoid the contagion of the flu. The epidemic will not enter your house if you clean and disinfect it with the Lux device. Disinfection capacity: 1,250 liters of air per minute. Negligible consumption. It eliminates dust, the vehicle for microbes, and according to a certificate from the Paris Municipal Laboratory, it also eliminates 99% of the impurities in the air”.

Among the appliances that were later classified as “brown line”, the radio was the most publicized in the press during the twenties and thirties. To stimulate their sales, manufacturers and stores offered installment sales, in addition to testing the devices without obligation on the part of the client, and even renting them. It was about reaching the greatest number of consumers, something that the advertisements insisted on: “Devices for all tastes and for all pockets” (Radio RCA, 1933).



But not only savings were invoked, the emotions of potential buyers were also appealed to with expressive slogans: “Delicious moments”, “A pleasant home”, “The realization of an ideal”…

What was being offered to consumers was not a device for leisure, but happiness, comfort, well-being. In short, the satisfaction of people’s desires and aspirations through the consumption of products. This anticipated the appearance of a new, more modern society.

This article comes from The Conversation. read here the original.



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