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From the Stove to the Electric Range

Industrial Design and Standardization: 1940 to 1960

Like other electric appliances, the first ranges were comparable to heavy pieces of machinery — bulky, sometimes dangerous, and difficult to use and to clean. Manufacturers gradually turned to industrial design experts to improve the appearance, performance and functionality of these large electric household appliances, and to broaden their markets.

Industrial design was introduced in the United States in the 1930s and spread to a number of industrialized countries, particularly after the Second World War. A creative pursuit, it depended on economic, technical, aesthetic and functional criteria to design a range of original products. Integrally linked to advertising, industrial design contributed to the increase in the mass consumption of manufactured goods.

In the early 1950s, kitchens began to adopt a modular system in which range width was standardized at approximately forty inches (one metre) to accommodate cupboards, sinks and counters. (CSTM Trade Literature Collection)
Electric ranges were assembled from pressed and welded steel panels sheathed in glazed porcelain. (CSTM Trade Literature Collection)

As a result of this trend, a harmonious mix of colours, shapes, surfaces, materials and textures gradually came to prevail in post-Second Word War family homes.

Electric range designed
by Raymond Loewy,
Frigidaire Home Products,
late 1940s
(CSTM 1976.0339)

Raymond Loewy (1893–1986), a Franco-American designer, is known for his creation of the Coldspot refrigerator in the mid-1930s. From 1939 to 1955, he worked for Frigidaire Home Products, a branch of the General Motors Corporation at the time. Working with company engineers, he used patterns from the automobile industry to design lighter-weight ranges that would be easier to use and maintain. The result can be seen in one piece from the collection (1976.0339), a white enamelled metal stove trimmed with chrome handles, stovetop element rims, and lamp shell. The standardization of the width at forty inches (about one metre) and the increased accuracy of the heat controls to within five degrees Fahrenheit, were the main technical innovations of this model, manufactured at the end of the 1940s.

Electric range designed by J. M. Little, Canadian Westinghouse Company Limited, circa 1950 (CSTM 2000.0095)

A Westinghouse range (2000.0095) designed by J. M. Little illustrates the harmony between materials, arrangement of components, and accessories. The rounded corners and the food warmer evoke earlier styles, but modern design is evident in the height of the backguard, the concentration of the control knobs, and the electrical outlet with a timer. As in Loewy’s Frigidaire model, the work space to the right of the cooking surface prefigured the counters that would soon furnish kitchens.

Ranges and refrigerators in the 1960s featured vibrant colours — aqua blue, salmon pink, avocado green, harvest gold and bronze. (CSTM Trade Literature Collection)

Mass construction of apartment buildings, associated with urban growth in Canada in the 1960s, imposed a homogeneity in home layout in which form followed function. The kitchen occupied a small space, combining kitchen cupboards, counters and electric household appliances, and was used exclusively for preparing food, while meals were usually eaten in the larger dining room. Having the kitchen adjoin this area made it easier for hosts and guests to communicate.

Range, Canadian General Electric Company Limited, circa 1960 (CSTM 1997.0063)

Representative of the era, the Canadian General Electric Company range (1997.0063) is distinguished by its bright colour, narrower thirty-inch (seventy-six-centimetre) width, single oven and its accessories — pushbutton controls, exterior light, clock and timer.

Range, Tappan–Gurney Limited, circa 1964 (CSTM 1999.0117)

The automation of components and accessories also marked the 1960s, as shown in the Deluxe Tappan–Gurney range (1999.0117). This range has retractable heating elements, controlled by knobs with seven heat settings, and an instrument panel controlling the rotisserie, lamp, and grill in the upper part of the oven. The lazy Susan in the lower section completes its features.