Seventy-five years ago today, an inventor named Irving Nachumsohn received a patent for the first commercially successful electric slow cooker. A few decades later, his device was more than just a beloved accessory in millions of American kitchens. The Crock-Pot was also seen as evidence that consumer goods could no longer be sold just to housewives but also would need to serve the needs of working women as well. Some credit the Crock-Pot and other home appliances with helping increase the number of women in the workforce.Share
The history of the slow cooker, whose sales have been booming recently, reflects a still-raging debate about how consumer appliances have changed -- and failed to change -- the gender balance at home as well as at work.
The Crock-Pot did not liberate women from the social stereotype or common burden of being the one responsible for cooking. Rather, the device, along with countless other home appliances like the washing machine and dryer, has simply made it easier for women to take on work outside the home. A recent government survey showed that in 2013, the average American woman still spent more than two hours a day on household activities, compared to about only an hour and 20 minutes for men. Meanwhile, after a decades-long rise, the percentage of women working has been gradually declining.
"All these appliances are marketed with the promise that they’ll make life so much easier for women, that they’ll save women infinite time. Inevitably those promises never really pan out," said Amy Bix, a historian at Iowa State University. (Read more.)