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Gadgets and Necessities: An Encyclopedia of Household Innovations

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The title of this book implies that it is about things—gadgets and necessities within the twentieth-century home. In a way it is, but we hope that it is a little more than that. It is about people and their ideas, about their relationships with things and the value they placed upon them. It is also about people as the products of an industrial society that required them to be both producers and consumers.

It is interesting to note that the word gadget appeared as a colloquial term for a small tool or mechanism in the 1880s. By this stage of the century most Victorians would have felt quite comfortable around machines of one sort or another. A gadget is something that already exists; it is tangible. But what of necessity? a need, the wanting of a thing. As humans we have basic natural needs that must be satisfied to keep us alive, but as the development of civilization has illustrated, what was a luxury to one generation becomes a necessity to the next. Why and when this change is decreed is far from obvious, but what is becoming clearer is that for the majority of people living in industrialized societies many of their needs are cultural rather than natural. So, if we are to look at the relationship between gadgets and necessities, we have to attempt a synthesis of approaches, to look at the material (the gadgets) and their necessity (the culture that informed their production and consumption). An alternative title to this book could therefore be Electricity and Desire.

The home has long been a microcosm of the larger society of which it is a part. The things that we choose to bring into our homes say a lot about us. Domestic objects have always been a rich source of information about the way people have lived and what they believed to be important. Everyday objects have long been valuable evidence for the archaeologist, even when written records are available. Nevertheless, the proliferation of written records has meant that the study of everyday things within the modern period

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