THE COMFORTS OF HOME by Merritt Ierley


The American House and the Evolution of Modern Convenience
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A brief and remarkably dull history of the creature comforts, from indoor flush toilets to microwave ovens, that are taken for granted in homes today. Author Ierley (Open House, 1999) has made himself something of an expert on the American home, and in this volume has tried to highlight the pioneer inventors and entrepreneurs whose 19th-century ingenuity has made the livin’ so easy. Each of his three chronological sections, spanning from 1805 to the present, incorporates descriptions of developments in Power, Fuel and Water Supply, Heating, Lighting, the Bathroom, and the Kitchen. To follow the evolution of modern toilet facilities, read the sections on the water closet and the bathroom as if they were one unit (as perhaps they should have been), and you—ll find that the principle of the flush toilet was demonstrated as early as the 16th century. The problem then and for centuries to come was delivery systems: Water had to be hand-pumped or carried to a cistern attached to the “stoole pot,” and the contents flushed into a closed container which also had to be emptied by hand. As water began to be piped into more and more homes beginning in the mid—19th century, the primitive design evolved into its efficient modern counterpart. Ierley discloses similar scenarios for bathing, cooking, and heating, describing a primitive central heating system, for instance, installed in a private American home as early as 1820. By the 1860s, the British were already complaining about overheated American buildings. Refrigeration, washing machines, even dishwashers and air conditioners all had early prototypes (“the 19th century was a marvelously inventive time in America”), apparently lying in wait for a cheap and convenient source of energy to evolve into today’s appliances. Dozens of early diagrams and charts, many incomprehensible, illustrate the new inventions and their impact. Fragmented and muddled, with considerable solid research gone to waste. (125 illus.)

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1999
ISBN: 0-609-60299-3
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999


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