Plugged into the American Dream


vintage housewife and family in laundry room

Vintage ad “Live Better Electrically” 1965

In 1956 happy homemaker Helen Watson didn’t give a hoot about leaving carbon footprints; in fact if one were pointed out to her she’d most likely plug-in her powerful Electrolux vacuum and sweep it all away.

Was she concerned about climate change? Not in the least. An electric blanket kept her toasty in winter a Freon filled air conditioner kept her cool in summer

Like most mid-century Americans,  Mrs. Watson wasn’t worried about energy related greenhouse gas emissions or renewable energy…unlimited energy was an American birth-rite.

American Dreaming on the Grid

vintage 1950s housewife in kitchen

Glancing up at the electric Telechronic clock in her suburban kitchen Helen smiled contentedly as she poured herself another cup of Maxwell House from the Miro-Matic electric percolator.

All was right in the world.

As the family’s wash n’ wear laundry tumbled in the Whirlpool dryer, baby Betsy’s bottle warmed in the electric bottle warmer, and hubby’s eggs sizzled in the automatic skillet, she mindlessly hummed a familiar jingle:

“Make your families life much brighter”
“You will find your work much lighter”
“It’s as easy as can be”
“To live better electrically.”

Good Vibrations

The peppy little jingle was courtesy of General Electric the folks who promised that progress was their most important business.

Helen’s carefree days were delineated by the lulling sounds of progress.

The familiar purr of the frost-free Frigidaire, the hum of the coffee maker, the whirring sounds of a Sunbeam Mixmaster and the whining of the waste disposal were soothing sounds to Helen’s ears.

In the distance, the buzzing of Ed’s electric razor, the whirling of his electric roto-shoe shiner blended seamlessly with the symphony of synchronized electric hedge trimmers and power tools emanating from do it yourself neighbors yards.

High Voltage Living

picture 1950s family and electric home appliances

In mid-century America,no one wanted to be considered underprivileged, electrically speaking. Vintage Ad- America’s Independent Electric Light and Power Company 1955


Like most Americans, Helen was tickled pink with her all-electric living ( not too pink please, no one would dare accuse her of being a Communist) “When you live better electrically,” Ronald Reagan told viewers as host to GE Theater, “ you lead a richer, fuller life.”

At the end of the day she could sleep securely under her electric blanket, satisfied that she was plugged into the American Dream.

That is until a series of advertisements appeared that cast some doubt.

From her waffle maker to her water heater, her radios to her rotisseries, Helen was quite sure she was living life large on the great American grid.

But now a questioned nagged at her…was she living large enough?

Apparently not.

How Do I Rate?

VintageVintage ad 1957-Americas Independent Electric Light and Power Companies

Vintage ad 1957-America’s Independent Electric Light and Power Companies

Along with the plethora of quizzes and tests that were so popular in all the women’s magazines asking the reader to rate their marriage, parenting skills and beauty quotient, there appeared a series of quizzes  posing as ads designed to rate your standard of living.

A standard of living as defined by Westinghouse, Frigidaire and 5 star General Electric.

“Just how efficient were you? the ads asked ?”  Naturally efficiency wasn’t referring to energy-efficient appliances it was about how many energy using appliances and devices you could fill your home with.

No one wanted to be considered underprivileged electrically speaking.


Live Better Electrically

Electric Live Better Electrically ads

Posing as quizzes, a series of ads appeared in the mid 1950s asking the reader to rate their standard of living. In 1957 to accompany the Live Better Electrically campaign,   GE organized the Medallion Home Program targeting home builders. To earn a status Gold Medallion the height of modern living a home had to have an electric washer and dryer, waste disposal, refrigerator and all-electric heating. (L) Vintage ad 1958  ” Medallion Homes -Live Better Electrically” (R) Vintage 1958 ad “Live Better Electrically” “How clever are you at gift shopping? Check the Give Better Electrically scale and see.” Not only were we living better electrically we were also encouraged to give better electrically.


Hoping to generate more electric power sales, a campaign was launched in 1956 called “Live Better Electrically” which was supported by 180 electrical manufactures and 300 electric utilities.

To keep electricity demands up, they aggressively ran ads, distributed booklets, produced a popular Sunday night TV show, all touting the benefits of electrical living.

Keeping Score

vintage family 1950s

“Can you guess how many ways you put electricity to work?” one ad asked, inviting the reader to make it a fun family affair. One good measure of your standard of living is the number of ways electricity is working for you. The more things you let electricity do, the more likely you are to live comfortably and conveniently and get the most out of life.” Vintage ad 1957

A fun family activity was keeping score of all the electrical appliances in the home. It helped the kiddies with their arithmetic skills to boot!

“Just for fun,” they suggest in one ad from 1957 , “why not guess right now how many ways you put electricity to work?”

“Then on the lists below check how many appliances you have in your home. If your guess comes within 5 of your actual total, you’re far above the average in your power of observation.”

If you checked  30-40 items you rated very good,  while having less than 15 items -” You Are …Missing a Lot!”

Naturally if you checked 45 items or more your standard of electrical living was excellent. Your chances of contributing to greenhouse gas emissions even greater!

 How Do I Measure Up?

Some ads spoke directly to the lady of the house. How did she rate as a housekeeper ?

Vintage ad 1958 Live Better Electrically

Its simply good sense to key your kitchen to modern living with an all-electric kitchen and start living better electrically. Check the Live Better Electrically scale and see o much of your life is spent in the kitchen. Vintage ad 1958 Live Better Electrically

“Are You spending too much time in the kitchen?” they asked. “Its simply good sense to key your kitchen to modern living with an all-electric kitchen and start living better electrically.”

All these “electrical servants” they boasted were true energy conservation appliances. Of course the energy they spoke of  was in reference to m’lady. These energy-saving, labor-saving items meant less tiresome chores and more energy and pep for the happy homemaker.


Electric Living Ads Test Scores

Vintage advertisements detail “Live Better Electrically” 1958


Like revealing personality tests, these simple yes or no quizzes had the reader rate themselves from 1-16 in a series of statement such  “Do you have at least 6 electric cooking appliances? Can you cook a perfect supper while you’re shopping?”

High scoring “Lots O Leisure Lottie” was the ideal to strive for,  who more than likely lived in a “Push button palace”  and was clearly living better electrically.  No one wanted to end up a low scorer like pathetic  “Drudging Dora” with her measly couple of electrical appliances  whose “Nightmare House” was positively primitive.


Are You Cooking the Hard way?

Electric Kitchen cooking  57 SWScan02344 - Copy

Just as advise writers regularly reinforced the ideal of beauty and womanhood so GE was reinforcing the ideal and status of an electric home with how many gadgets you owned proving how progressively plugged in were you.


High scorer “Dinner Duchess”   the winner in this quiz with a fully loaded kitchen of appliances fit for a Queen was described as “high and mighty happy are you! You’re ruling the kitchen the royal way- with electricity and the results are really regal!  The low scoring “Galley Slave” was to be pitied –”you’re not emancipated-just a notch above a drudge-unless of course you have a modern electric range.”

Remember, the ads reassured the reader, if you didn’t rank as high as you expected to on the Live Better Electrically scale, don’t be too unhappy. Just hop in your gas guzzling Buick and head on over to your local appliance store.

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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