Cleaner, Healthier, Easier: Improving the Modern Home, 1900–1945
The objects, design drawings, and advertisements on view in this gallery and the adjacent one provide compelling examples of how designers in Europe and America responded to new ideas and attitudes about health, hygiene, and efficiency in the home in the early twentieth century. The knowledge that micro-organisms caused infectious diseases led to reforms in public health policies at the end of the nineteenth century. Several world events also contributed to a demand for cleaner and more efficient environments and products: the 1918 influenza epidemic, which killed over 20 million people; the commitment to reconstruct major areas of Europe following the destruction wrought by the First World War; and later, the economic depression of the 1930s. Likewise, the modern corporation’s drive for economic efficiency was translated into a desire for labor-saving devices for the household, made increasingly possible by the growth of electrical power networks.
Designers were called upon to create interiors, furniture, and appliances that would save time and money, and that could be easily cleaned. Advertisers promoted these new products with images and slogans that held out the promise of a healthier home and pledged to make the drudgery of household chores a thing of the past. Many of these same ideas continue to interest us today.
Cleaner, Healthier, Easier is one component of a multiyear project to develop the conceptual framework for the reinstallation of The Wolfsonian’s permanent collection galleries. It is supported, in part, through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.