Cover image for The comforts of home : the American house and the evolution of modern convenience
The comforts of home : the American house and the evolution of modern convenience
Ierley, Merritt.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Clarkson Potter, [1999]

Physical Description:
287 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TH6057.A6 I37 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The Age of Technology is nowhere made more personal than at home. Modern convenience shapes our daily routine, making today's American house a place of comfort, the like of which has never been known. Yet of all aspects of modern technology, it is the evolution of what is in the household that has been least written about.          InThe Comforts of Home, an unprecedented work written for a general audience with no particular knowledge of science or technology, social historian Merritt Ierley weaves in aspects of architecture, social history, and technology to present an underexplored but central feature of American cultural identity: how our lives are shaped by the domestic technology around us. Here we see a simple brick cubicle with a stove inside it evolve into central heating, a barrel with a large handle become the automatic washing machine, a box lined with charcoal birth the modern refrigerator, and the modern toilet develop from a rudimentary stone trough.          The Comforts of Homecharts the evolution of mechanical systems--from central heating to lighting, from kitchen to bathroom, from washing machine to vacuum cleaner--on which we all depend and without which most of us could hardly imagine surviving. It is also the story of the people responsible for the revolution of convenience in the home: people like Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, a British Loyalist, inventor and spy who fled his home in the American colonies in 1776. His genius of invention returned in the form of inventions with practical impact on everyday life in the household. Or like architects Benjamin Latrobe and James Gallier, Jr., who defined the cutting edge of modern convenience for their times.The Comforts of Homeis also the story of ordinary people like David and Ida Eisenhower, who provided their son Dwight and his brothers with a home that increased in comfort the way most American homes did--bit by bit, appliance by appliance, advance by advance--as new technology became cheaper and more widespread, and more a part of everyday life.          The story of the convenience of modern living is compellingly traced in this delightfully written book illustrated with nearly 200 photographs and vintage illustrations. Front and back illustrations, c. 1892, show a Standard Gas Machine apparatus that was used for supplying one's own home with illuminating gas in the age of gaslight (courtesy of Smithsonian Institution). Inset shows delivery of a 1960s automatic "Ice Maker" refrigerator (courtesy of Whirlpool Corporation).

Author Notes

He is a social historian, the author of seven books relating to American history and technology, including The Comforts of Home. He lives in northern New Jersey.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Table of Contents

Forewordp. 6
Introductionp. 8
Part 1 The Coming of Modern: 1805p. 15
Power, Fuel, and Water Supplyp. 33
Heatingp. 42
Lightingp. 56
Bathingp. 62
The Water Closetp. 65
In and Around the Kitchenp. 73
The Future: More Recognizable: 1830p. 85
Part 2 Between Thumb and Finger: 1860p. 93
Power, Fuel, and Water Supplyp. 104
Heatingp. 121
Lightingp. 132
The Bathroomp. 141
Appliancesp. 151
The Kitchenp. 160
The Future: More Recognizable: 1900p. 172
Part 3 The Perfecting of Comfort: The 1920s to the Presentp. 179
Power, Fuel, and Infrastructurep. 186
Heating and Air Conditioningp. 200
Lightingp. 214
The Bathroomp. 220
Appliancesp. 229
The Kitchenp. 238
Epiloguep. 250
Notesp. 252
Bibliographyp. 265
Acknowledgmentsp. 273
Indexp. 277