The modern, industrialized world revolves around a myriad of electrical and electronic gadgets. Little is done anymore which doesn’t require electrical power.
We’ve harnessed this power for tasks to make our lives easier, as well as more interesting. The electric motor is at the core of many of these devices. By using motors, we eliminate the need to provide the manpower for these devices ourselves. This saves both work and time, allowing us to accomplish more, with less effort. Such is modern progress.
One of the major areas where this technology has been applied is in the home, specifically in making homemaking chores easier. Back before electricity, many household tasks required considerable muscle power to accomplish. Women had to work a lot harder in the home and usually for many more hours to get their work done.
While these gadgets do make things easier, our ancestors got by just fine without them. Learning about their appliances can be useful, whether it’s simply to use as a backup in case our electronic versions break, or it’s to use during a power outage.
1. Wood-burning cook stoves
Many homesteaders already use stoves for heat, but that doesn’t mean that they can cook on them. Unlike the older designs, few modern wood-burning stoves are designed to allow their tops to be used as a cook stove. Also, modern wood-burning stoves generally are not in the kitchen.
The difference is that a cook stove is designed for cooking, rather than heating. It provides burners for cooking food in pots and pans, as well as an oven for baking. If you can find one, they’re worth picking up, as new ones are often running over $5,000.
2. Wood-fired water heater
An add-on option to the wood-burning cook stove is a wood-fired water heater. These were a metal tube, installed in the cook stove, above the firebox. Filled, they would hold about five gallons of water, enough to heat a bathtub, when brought to boiling. A spigot on the front allows easy removal of the heated water into a pot or pail.
3. Fireplace crane
Those who couldn’t afford a cook stove were stuck with cooking in their fireplaces. That may seem excessively rustic to us today, but it was very common throughout much of history. All a cook stove did was make cooking more convenient, but just like cooking hot dogs over a campfire still works today, so does cooking over a fireplace.
One common means of cooking over a fire in a home was to use a fireplace crane. This is a metal hook, mounted to the side of the fireplace, which allows a suspended pot to be swung over the fire and then swung away for stirring and serving. The fireplace crane adds a lot of safety to cooking in a fireplace, as well as convenience.
4. Oil lamps
Maybe this one isn’t really an appliance, but oil lamps are a vast improvement over using candles for light. They don’t require the time it takes to make candles, can be used with any oil, and provide much more light. This increase in light comes from their larger wick. When used with mineral oil, lamps are smoke-free, helping to keep the air in your home fresher and cleaner.
Surprisingly, few homesteaders and survivalists have oil lamps in their stockpile, mostly opting for candles. But a few oil lamps will serve much better over the long run, ultimately providing much better lighting. Since they can burn other oils than just mineral oil, they will probably still be usable after paraffin for making candles runs out.
Yes, washboards do have a purpose other than a hillbilly band. The old-fashioned washboard made washing easier, if you can believe that. The corrugated surface provided agitation to the clothes, breaking loose dirt so that it can be rinsed away. While this may not seem easy, it’s better than not having one.
Washboards come in two sizes, a smaller one that is 18 inches x 9 inches and a larger one that is 24 inches x 12 inches. They are also made in a variety of different materials. While zinc-coated steel is the most common, they can also be made of copper, brass and even glass. Of the various materials, glass outlasts the rest.
6. Clothes wringer
If you’re going to have to wash clothes by hand, then it would be nice to be able to wring them out by hand, as well. Of course, you can do that totally by hand, building muscle and making your hands tired, or you can do it with a clothes wringer.
These wringers are most often associated with the early electric tub washing machines, which usually had a wringer mounted on the edge. However, some people had the wringer, without the tub washer. Either way, the wringer still does its job, making it much easier to get the majority of the water out of your clothes, without having to wear out your hands.
7. Kerosene clothes iron
People started ironing their clothes long before the electric clothes iron was invented. In colonial America and the pioneering days, the most common clothes iron was the cast iron, which was literally made of cast iron. The iron was placed on a wood stove for heating, and the mass of metal held the heat for ironing.
The cast iron was ultimately replaced by the kerosene iron. This had a small fuel tank and an internal burner, making it totally self-contained. The tank would be filled with kerosene and the burner lit. Within a few minutes, the iron would be producing enough heat to iron your clothes. While nowhere near as convenient as a modern electric iron, this was a vast improvement over the cast iron.
8. Meat grinder
The meat grinder wasn’t something that would be found in all homes, but it was fairly common in farmhouses and butcher shops. At that time, grinding meat for hamburgers wasn’t all that common. Instead, meat grinders were used for grinding meat to make sausage. Usually, the meat grinder would be able to be used to stuff the sausage into the skins as well.
This was an important means of preserving meat, as all types of sausage and lunchmeats fall into the category of “cured” meats. The high salt content was the main curing methodology, as salt is a natural preservative. Much of this cured meat was also smoked, forming a skin of collagen around it, which would keep bacteria out.
9. Meat hammer
You can still find meat hammers in use in kitchens today, although many people have no idea of what they are. The meat hammer is the original meat tenderizer, predating MSG by centuries. Not only does it predate MSG, but it’s much better for your health. The pointed surface of the meat hammer was used for breaking down tough meat, by breaking its structure. This made the meat much easier to chew and digest.
Game meat is generally considerably tougher than domesticated meats. If you are planning on eating game meat as part of your survival plans, then having a meat hammer on hand is going to make your meals much more enjoyable.
10. Apple peeler/corer
People who have apple orchards or even a single large apple tree need to be able to make use of their apples. In olden times, apples were squeezed for cider, dried as apple rings, turned into applesauce and made into apple butter. Some of these products required peeling and coring the apples, as these parts were not wanted. The job could be done by hand, but if you had a lot of apples to deal with, a peeler/corer was much easier.
This is a hand-crank device, which worked similar to a wood lathe. The blade would peel off the skin as the crank was turned. The core was easier, as putting the apple on the appliance actually meant pushing it onto the corer. A twist as the apple was removed, and the core stayed behind.
The same tool could be used for peeling potatoes, so it was useful in more than one way, although it was still referred to as an apple peeler.
11. Dutch oven
People who didn’t have that fancy wood-burning cook stove we talked about earlier still needed a means to bake. Pies, cakes and bread were all popular parts of their diets. But these require an oven. That’s where the Dutch oven comes in.
The Dutch oven of our grandparents day was different than most of what you buy today. What we call a Dutch oven now is nothing more than a medium-sized pot. It can’t be used in a fireplace well, and if it is, it will not last long. But these older Dutch Ovens were made of cast iron, making them much more durable and much better at resisting the damage of the fire.
A true Dutch oven will have feet cast into it, allowing it to be placed in the coals of the fire and still stand upright. The lid will have a rim on it as well so that coals can be piled on top, without falling off. In this manner, the food inside is surrounded by heat, something necessary for baking.
What old-time appliances would you add to this list? Share your tips in the section below: