Blast from the Past: Appliance Trade Shows, 1930s Style

By Andy Kriege, YSN

From today’s consumer perspective, refrigerators, ranges, washers and other home appliances are mundane fixtures that many take for granted.

However, nearly ninety years ago, things were very different indeed. For most people, an “ice-box” was essentially just that: A chunk of ice in a box.

In the 1930s, appliances were an exclusive privilege of the rich and famous. They were priced far outside the reach of the masses and were marketed to the jet setters of the pre-Depression era. A small and noisy General Electric “Monitor Top” refrigerator was on the cutting edge of new technology. It sold for $215 when a dollar a day was a good wage for a working man. Imagine working all day, every day for seven months just to buy a refrigerator. It’s no wonder my grandfather got used to drinking his beer warm.

All the major brands of the time were displayed at tradeshows. (Sound familiar?) The real difference is, back then the products were displayed by the retailers and shown directly to the consumer. Most people likely shopped them in an aspirational sense, as so few could actually afford to buy them. Not to mention a good chunk of rural America had yet to be electrified.

So, as you check out these images, put yourself in the mindset of an average husband and wife visiting this fabulous home design expo to see all the marvelous (and expensive) things that the rich and famous had in their manors.

Top Loaders in Stock!

The Maytag booth was hosted by the “Maytag West Coast Co.,” which showcased Maytag’s “Gyrafoam” washers. The Gyrafoam’s revolutionary washing technology propelled Maytag into a dominant role in the laundry category and out of the farm implement business.

Now Here’s a Salesman…

…hawking attachment sales right on through the Great Depression! The booth of the L.H. Bennett Co. seems to be offering the same products as many other exhibitors — the only apparent difference being that the Bennett Co. is really pushing its “4 Year Service Plan.” [I doubt L.H. Bennett was related to our own Tom Bennett. If he was, he would have been selling refrigerators that could hold a lot more beer.]

What, No Jeep? 

In a tradition that remains to this day, you could register at every booth to win some sort of a prize. The big winners are all pictured here with what would have been very expensive prizes at the time. [If I’m not mistaken, that’s John Dillinger on the far right with the semi-automatic Sunbeam Mix-Master.]

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, furniture, mattress and CE dealers.