The Archive’s files on steel use in appliance manufacturing provide information on the history of steel in appliances, electrical-appliance sales, the use of appliances in U.S. homes, and steel shipments to the appliance industry.
Analysis:As the twentieth century dawned, relatively small amounts of iron and steel were being used to make stoves, kitchen utensils, and cutlery, and some 25 years were to elapse until three major developments gave rise to an appliance industry that was to become a thriving new market for steel. First, households and other consumers started to replace their old cast-iron stoves with sheet-steel kitchen ranges. Second, manufacturers of washing machines started to turn away from wood and copper in favor of galvanized steel. And third, manufacturers of household refrigerators, which had first been introduced in 1912, started to overcome consumer resistance with more reliable electric models, which became an acceptable alternative to the old-fashioned, wooden icebox. With these trends in place, appliance makers started to develop closer working relationships with the steel industry.
Like the icebox, the first refrigerators also were made of wood, which was subject to rot, a problem overcome in 1927, when General Electric Company introduced the all-steel refrigerator. Beyond the major appliances, steel also became the preferred material for manufacturing a variety of smaller household appliances, such as vacuum cleaners, electric irons, water heaters, toasters, hot plates, waffle irons, and other small cooking implements. So popular did new appliances of all types become that their sales and consumption of steel increased even during the Great Depression, with the exception of only two years, 1932 and 1938.
During World War II, appliance manufacturing was largely suspended, and after the war, the appliance industry ramped up its output to meet pent-up demand, introduced refinements and new features to its existing product line, and then started to market a number of new products, including clothes dryers, freezers, dishwashers, and room air conditioners, all of which were and continue to be built primarily from steel.