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Home and Lifestyle

Domestic inventions have historically been time- and labour-saving devices, utilizing new technology to ease our daily lives. This is a characteristic that colours Alberta home lifestyle inventions in the Canadian Patent Record for over a century.

Edith Thomas' DishwasherHousehold inventions in the first half of the 20th century in Alberta existed in the realm of everyday life. The inventors were men and women who might be your neighbours, and the inventions were often designed at the kitchen table and built in a backyard workshop. Two such examples are the ironing board and cabinet  invented by William Samuel Beggs of Volmer and a dishwasher  patented by Edith Thomas of Trochu in1923. Beggs was motivated by the need to save space for apartment dwellers, while Edith Thomas was looking to ease the burden of a household task that was, at the time, often being accomplished without the benefits of running water or electricity.

A war bonds posterThe great depression of the 1930s and the Second World War brought about change and challenge throughout the world and into Alberta households. Buying timesaving inventions for the home was difficult and often an impossible luxury. This fact is reinforced by the absence of domestic inventions recorded for the province in the patent record. One success of the era was Medalta’s Sanitas mug. During the first half of the century, Medalta Potteries  dominated the nation’s pottery market. During the war, however, when hotels and households stopped buying, the government and armed forces became the primary customer. When this new customer requested a mug resistant to bacteria, Medalta invented the Sanitas mug. After the war, Medalta was able to sell this product to the domestic market. It is a success story to come out of a time of struggle.

The 1950s Electric DreamBy the 1950s, not surprisingly, many Albertans craved the peace and purchasing power denied to them for nearly two decades. The economy boomed and a consumer culture took hold. Suburbs, offering the dream of a peaceful life among family and neighbours rose quickly in the cities of Alberta.

Electricity also made its way into the rural regions of the province during this time, adding to the desire for domestic labour-saving devices. Electric machines became must-have items not only for cosmopolitan homemakers but for farm families as well. The Alberta Department of Agriculture sent out home economists to Alberta’s small towns and prairie settlements to help modernize farm life. Like missionaries of an electric future, these home economists promoted time-saving inventions and the efficiency of the modern home.

KelvinatorLooking through store and appliance catalogues and even the Canadian Patent Record beginning in the 1950s, few domestic inventions from Alberta appear. At the time, national name-brand appliances—with large advertising campaigns and promises of revolutionary technology—were increasingly being purchased over the locally produced and independently manufactured devices that had previously been the norm, rather than the exception.

During the latter half of the century, large manufacturers of household appliances continued to dominate Alberta’s market. This is not to say that Albertan inventors have been cut out of the inventive process, only that they now work for these companies. The inventing is no longer done at the kitchen table, but in sophisticated laboratories with high technology. Albertans are as involved in the field as much as they have ever been.

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