Mothers have an incredible responsibility in raising the next generation. Their time is limited and precious. As time and modern history have progressed, the clock seems to be ticking faster, rendering those slow, beautiful, albeit hard days of homemaking and baby rearing much more stressful and full of additional, and different duties than those of our matriarchal ancestral past.
Where there are fewer meaningful moments during our days of motherhood that we have to work harder to intentionally carve out time for, there are zoom meetings, traffic, errands, appointments and endless other things we have seemingly replaced as somehow more important than the very basic duty we have been called to.
Alongside this “progress,” as the precious time was taken away from us, there were these tiny, helpful presents given to us in exchange for the hustle and bustle of modern life.
While simpler, wholesome, deeply meaningful days like those of the past pull at my heart strings, I cannot deny that living with (at least some of) these present day conveniences make life simpler.
As I write this, my mind drifts to the stories of my grandparents and their lives when they were younger compared to today. Though I strive deeply to provide a heartfelt and purposeful life for my children, my heart is genuinely saddened. Walk down the street in any city of America and take a look around. What I see is lost human connection. People glued to cell phones, tablets, and computers at coffee shops instead of books and conversations. An impatient rushing around to grab the quickest meal with no real thought of where the food comes from.
Images: Prepping Breakfast with Ivy
So, while we have a few time saving inventions, we have lost something really important at the heart of our humanity.
Aside from my nostalgia, I am true lover of history, so this Mother’s Day, let’s lightly take a peak into some of the inventions that western society as a whole has deemed necessary for modern day living.
Inventions Intended to Make Life As A Mother Easier
Thought to have been one of the earliest bits of technology, baby carriers were an absolute necessity for nomadic natives. It is thought that some of the earliest carriers were fashioned from a variety of natural materials that were woven together like leaves, vines, bark, and animal skins. Different versions of baby carriers were created by cultures all around the world for the same reason: to give mothers freedom to move about and work with full use of her arms while also providing comfort and a day of ease with a baby in tow.
It wasn’t until 1964, when Ann Moore sat down with her mother to stitch together a pouch to carry her baby in based on what she had seen mothers in Africa wearing during her time as a Peace Corp nurse, that the idea caught on in the Western world. Her desire for closeness to her baby while doing chores and even exercising inspired her invention of the Snugli, which earned a patent in 1969.
Any mother who has used a form of baby carrying can tell you that the combination of fulfilling baby’s basic needs (nursing, closeness, movement, hearing Mommy’s heartbeat) and being hands free to cook, clean, hike, walk, etc at the same time is indeed one of the best inventions. I might even go so far as to say THE best.
Pictures 1 & 3: Ergo Baby Carrier; Picture 2: Sakura Bloom Sling
The beautiful few moments alone in the shower with the water to wash away the day are usually taken for granted. It used to be that taking a walk down to a river (or waterfall) to bathe or to collect water to boil was the norm. I can imagine that certain times of the year were a bit more difficult than others, and if weather, distance, and wild elements isn’t enough, trailing along a string of children to the river to make sure that everyone was clean probably took most of the day. Who needs rubber duckies when there may be real ones during bath time? I imagine that one tradition handed down from those days would be bath time songs. I don’t know about your house, but my kids’ bath time still takes an hour and is full of splashing, toys, and singing. So, even though showers are a special treat for moms, I am not sure modern bath time with kids has gotten any shorter.
In 1767 William Fettham invented the first mechanized shower. It received lukewarm reception as it recycled the same water over and over again (Yuck!). Several amazing but generally boring improvements took place over the next 148 years, but the most important change was Sears Roebuck started selling showers in 1915. Which significantly decreased the cost and increased the availability to the “dirty huddled masses yearning to be clean.”
By 1965, 85% of American Households had both a tub and a shower but it wasn’t until the early 1980s that showering as we know it became popular with the community at large and moms everywhere.
How did we go from washing clothes in a river to carrying gallons of water from a manual pump boiling clothes in large pots, and beating them mercilessly to the efficient, no-manual-labor needed, washers of today?
The evolution is pretty interesting.
Starting in 1858 when Hamilton Smith patented the rotary washing machine. He and his wife had 10 children which probably was a big motivator to create the appliance.
Ten years later in 1868 Thomas Bradford, a British inventor, created a commercially successful machine that resembles the modern device.
Then in 1874, William Blackstone of Indiana created another version of the washing machine as a birthday present for his wife, then successfully put it on the market.
Photo credit: The Story of the Evolution of the Washing Machine
In 1908, Alva J. Fisher invented a commercial washer which was powered by an electric motor which was named “ Thor.” His design was the precursor to the modern day washing machine.
Rendering of "Thor." Photo Credit: The Story of the Evolution of the Washing Machine
By the 1950s, automatic washers became more popular and a large number of US manufacturers introduced multiple competing models. Today more than 80% of households have a washing machine.
Another interesting fact:
The very first automatic washing process was actually invented hundreds of years ago well before Hamilton, Smith, and William. Sailors used to put their dirty laundry in strong bags, tie the bag to the ship and then toss it over the side letting it drag for hours until the clothes were clean.
Whether you remember the days of carrying a laundry basket heaped full of freshly washed clothes to the backyard and spending your afternoon hanging them from the backyard clothesline or hearing the stories of your grandmother doing so, the idea probably conjures up a lovely vision in your head; walking through the long grass and spring wildflowers while the breeze gently blows your hair. As long as a rainstorm doesn’t move in just about the time you are done.
Though I must confess, I still prefer drying my clothes on a clothing rack outside so they smell like the fresh air and make me think of the birds that were chirping in the trees that day, the invention of the clothes dryer is an enormous time saver and much more practical for towels and bedding.
In 1892, African American George T. Sampson received a patent for the first clothes dryer. His invention used heat from a stove to dry clothes.
It wasn’t until many years later, in 1937 that the first electric clothes dryer was invented by Henry Altorfer. What was it like? Well, we can only assume by the lack of information surrounding his invention, that it wasn’t much to write home about. Or, it could be that because J. Ross Moore’s design for an automatic electric dryer named “June Day” was released to the public in 1938, that Altofer’s was overshadowed. I wonder if the rules of advertising and who has the most money behind their product applied then as it does today.
J. Ross Moore's Clothing Dryer
In 1955, still only 10% of U.S. households had dryers but by 2009 that number had greatly increased to above 80%. What other drastic changes happened during that time that convinced families they needed the added convenience of a dryer? The percentage of women in the work force went from 30% in the 1950s to 60% by 2009.
Around 8% of Americans still line dry their clothes. This number may be low for several reasons. Rules that restrict clotheslines by HOAs & landlords, as well as the fact that most young adults work full time and were probably raised in a home with a dryer. The idea of drying clothes outdoors has become a pretty foreign concept to millennials.
Cool interesting fact:
Did you know that ironing works by first making the bonds in the fibers of the material more flexible and then the weight of the iron helps straighten them?
The concept of ironing began long before the first patent in 1882. Though we don’t know exactly for sure when it began, the first records are of China in the 1st century B.C. filling metal pans with hot water to smooth clothes and help release the creases in the fabric.
Henry W. Seeley’s patent was for an electric flatiron in 1882. They were coined “flatiron” due to their iconic shape. Households would need two or more flatirons to iron efficiently. One to heat up while the other one was being used. They must have been widely popular because some stoves had cutouts to specifically hold the irons.
Many of today’s fabrics do not require ironing to hold their shape, which is even more of a blessing than the invention of the iron.
The ability to load the family in the car along with a few days of supplies and head out on a road trip to camp under the stars, explore new biomes and landscapes or even just to take the short trip to the grocery store, tennis practice, and piano lessons instead of packing down a horse has definitely changed life for the better.
In 1900 the first American woman to obtain a driver’s license was Anne Rainsford French Bush (1878 -1962). She obtained a steam engineer’s license, entitling her to operate a “four-wheeled vehicle powered by steam or gas,” thereby becoming the first licensed woman driver. Life Magazine reported 52 years later that she never had a dent. She even had the unofficial title of “Miss Locomobile” of 1900 and the official title of “Mom” in 1903. I wonder where her favorite destinations to drive to were?
Anne Rainsford French Bush; Photo Credit: Transportation History
As society evolved and progressed, the closeness and connection moms had in the form of the village was fractured and eventually disappeared almost altogether.
To replace that, babysitting emerged as a social role for teenagers in the 1920s, though it didn’t really take off until the 1950s when there was a booming population, an abundance of small children, and the standard of living had increased/changed to which parents could or were expected to socialize without their children.
Prior to the 1950’s, parents who were wealthy enough to enjoy an evening out usually had live-in servants who would tend to the children making a babysitter unnecessary. The non-wealthy population often lived with extended family/ies which also made babysitters unnecessary.
The 1950s seem to be the official breakdown of what was left of the “village.” The middle-class moved to suburbia and parents moved away from extended families. Most also had more disposable income to spend on entertainment. Popular forms of entertainment included drive-in theaters, diners, jukeboxes, Rock & Roll, and abstract art.
I was originally not going to include the tv in this list, but due to its popularity, I can’t turn a blind eye. I will, however, loudly and vehemently claim that I am NOT a fan of the tv, or of using one as a babysitter. I was raised in a household without one and fully believe not having one contributes to my intense love of books, adventure, nature, and deep need for always learning. Though we do have a tv in my home, (husband insists), my children have very specific boundaries and often go weeks or months without sitting in front of it. Without fail, I always notice a change in behavior when they do watch tv. Sadly, not in a good way.
What do they do for boredom? One of my favorite quotes is by Dr. Nicholas Kardars, PH. D, and says,
“Let children experience boredom: there is nothing healthier for a child than to learn how to use their own interior resources to work through the challenges of being bored. This then acts as the fertile ground for developing their powers of observation, cultivating patience, and developing an active imagination – the most developmentally and neurosynaptically important skill they can learn.”
Want to turn the tv off but have been lost in the torrent of rushed days? 1000 Hours Outside has SO many ways, ideas, and support for getting your family outside and out from under the glare of circadian disrupting blue lights.
My kids enjoying a day at the farm.
The number of TV sets in use rose from 6,000 in 1946 to some 12 million by 1951. (Yes, only 5 years completely changed how Americans entertained themselves and learned about world events.) No new invention entered American homes faster than black-and-white TV sets. By 1955, half of all US homes had one. As of 2005, it was estimated by the Consumer Electronics Association that there were 285 million sets in use in American households. (The population of the United States in 2005 was 295.5 million.
As of 2020, 80% of American households have at least 1 smart TV. It has been estimated that less than 2% of American households do not have a TV.
The first patent for the dishwasher was granted in 1850 to Joel Houghton. In 1887 Josephine Cochrane improved on the invention and presented it at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. It was said that she invented the first commercially successful automatic dishwasher for the simple reason “she was tired of washing dishes”.
Photo Credits: Photo 1: Dishwasher Expert; Photo 2: https://twitter.com/springernature/status/1368864090542735360
The dishwasher continued to evolve in effectiveness and ease of use becoming to be regarded as a “necessary item” in the 1970s. Today more than 75% of American households have a dishwasher. Cochrane, a mother of 2, was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. Her company eventually became a part of KitchenAid and in 1949, the first KitchenAid dishwasher based on her design was introduced to the world.
From Answering Machines to Cell Phones
I am a very young 36 years old and can fully remember the days without a cell phone. What were they like? Easier. Today, you have to go through a lot of trouble it seems to spend a day without a phone. Planning ahead and letting those closest to you know that you will be out of range or will be turning it off. Otherwise, they tend to think the worst.
Was it really so horrible that you didn’t get an instantaneous answer for everything? Patience is a virtue, and also one that is mostly lost. We have, at large, become a society for instant gratification.
In 1949, Joseph Zimmerman and George W. Danner invented the first commercially successful answering machine. By the 1970s the telephone answering machines had become small enough and affordable enough for home use, and they rapidly gained popularity in American households.
Jump ahead 34 years to 2004 and 78% of Americans now had voicemail (invented in the 1970s by Gordon Mathews) which completely replaced the traditional answering machines in the late 1990s.
My husband remembers his childhood friend’s father having one in his Mercedes limousine. It was a hit with all of friends, though they were never allowed to use it. Usage cost was several dollars a minute.
The first portable cell phone was invented in 1973 by Martin Cooper of Motorola, it weighed 2.4 lbs had a talk time of just 30 minutes, required 10 hours to recharge, and cost, in today’s dollars, about $10,000.
The first true cell phone to enter the market was a Siemen phone in 1985 that came in the form of a suitcase.
In 1990, the number of mobile users was around 11 million, and by 2020, that number had risen to an incredible 2.5 billion. That’s 32% of the entire world population!
In 1992, the first-ever text message was sent by a developer to the company director at Vodafone’s office Christmas party. The text message simply said: “Merry Christmas!”
The first Smartphone was invented in 1992 by IBM and released for purchase in 1994. Though the first Smartphones to connect to the internet was in 2000, it wasn’t until 2007 that the first iPhone was released which was (and is) essentially a handheld computer that thrust us into the Information Age, and the degradation of a large portion of society through social media. Both a blessing and curse, it is seemingly here to stay.
Automatic coffee makers
Though I much prefer a cup of tea, fresh pressed juice, or homemade smoothie in the mornings to coffee (I am not a coffee drinker), I do love the smell of fresh brewing coffee. I heard the Folger’s “The best part of waking up, was Folger’s in your cup!” tune enough as a child playing on the radio, that it will forever be ingrained in my memory.
In 1972, a patent was granted to Edmund Abel Jr for a "pour-in, instant brewing electric coffee maker." Appropriately named “Mr. Coffee”, the first automatic drip coffee maker for the home was launched a month later. By 1975 there were over 1 million Mr. Coffees in American Households. In 2020, it was estimated that around 40% of US households still have an automatic drip coffee maker. Coffee presses, cappuccino makers and other ways to brew coffee have now also become widely popular.
The same year the patent was granted for the automatic coffee maker, Starbucks arrived on the scene, launching in 1971 at Pike Place Market in Seattle Washington and serves more than 11 million cups per day.
Since Starbucks supplies so much of the US’s coffee, perhaps they should assume the responsibility of making sure their coffee beans are mycotoxin free and commit to organic/non-gmo ingredients.
Here is a breakdown by The Food Babe of some of Starbuck's less than desirable attributes everyone should be aware of.
Happy Mother's Day!!
What is even better than all the helpful, creative, life-simplifying inventions?
Being a mother. Nothing can replace the importance and significance of the most beautiful, life-giving job in the world.
So, Happy Mother's Day to all the beautiful mothers!
In celebration of you, let someone else load the washer/dryer and run the dishwasher today.
Very Long List of References for Further Reading: (Lots of Interesting Facts!)