Piece of History: Marketing electricity

Piece of History: Marketing electricity

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Louise Hathaway used a model home to introduce electrical appliances to homemakers in Cedar Rapids

Piece of History: Marketing electricity

Louise Hathaway (right) and Harriet Mateer do a cooking demonstration in the all-electric Bungalow kitchen, circa 1939. Every detail of the Bungalow, at 123 Second Ave. SE, was designed to use psychology and sales techniques to get women excited about using electricity. (The History Center)

Perhaps the person most responsible for selling electricity in its early days to Cedar Rapidians was Louise Hathaway.

In the summer of 1909, Hathaway was hired as a temporary stenographer for Sutherland Dows, president of Iowa Railway and Light Corp. (now known as Alliant Energy). The two got along so well that she continued as his secretary for the rest of his life.

At the time of his death, Hathaway was given the opportunity to select any position within the company that she wanted.

Upon realizing that 30 percent of the utility’s residential consumers did not use even the minimum amount of current they were billed for each month, Hathaway came up with a plan to sell electricity to homemakers.

She created the Home Services Department, with the goal of making women aware of how electricity could benefit their daily lives and simplify their routines.

A fully furnished mock home was designed to show the benefits of full home electrification. As The Gazette put it in a Feb. 20, 1930, article about The Bungalow’s opening, electricity “converts what was at one time housework into home management and home making science.”

The Bungalow, at 123 Second Ave. SE, opened Feb. 21, 1930. Every detail of the mock home was designed to use psychology and sales techniques to get women excited about using electricity.

Artist Marvin Cone designed lighting effects in the windows so they could be set to day or night, depending on the demonstration.

The living room boasted almost a dozen lighting fixtures, and the dining room had recessed lighting with 246 small light bulbs in red, amber, and green, which could be controlled by a hostess’ electric panel.

The kitchen was the main attraction, with a toaster, electric grill, coffee maker, electric stove, refrigerator, mixer and dishwasher.

There was plenty of room for seating so Hathaway could give demonstrations of how to use all these new appliances. The demonstrations continued with different hosts into the 1980s.

Tara Templeman is curator at The History Center. Comments: [email protected]



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