Electricity in the Home
At the beginning of the 1920s, fewer than 10% of British households were wired to an electricity supply network, and most of those were wired for lighting only. Gas remained the main domestic fuel.
In London, electricity was supplied by a patchwork of largely private companies. The two largest were the London Power Company, which supplied west London; and the County of London Electric Supply Co Limited, which supplied the eastern districts. Both were expanding and both were profitable. Between 1919 and 1924 the County of London's consumers doubled in number and company profits rose from 217,473 to 650,509.
By the end of the 1920s, more households were wired up to the network. The two most common pieces of electrical equipment in British homes were the electric iron and the electric radio. Electricity was increasingly used for heating, but many electric heaters were weak and designed to be used on a lighting circuit. A small portable electric heater would cost 21 shillings (43 today). An electric kettle was a relatively luxurious item and cost 25 shillings in 1929 (over 50 today).
Many of the new firms making electrical goods were in and around London. The American company Hoover built a glamorous new factory on the Great West Road in the early 1930s. Its rival in the electric cleaner market was the Swedish firm Electrolux. Electrolux had been founded in 1919 but in 1927 the company opened a plant in Luton to supply the London market. Electrolux pioneered the cylinder design of suction cleaners, in contrast to Hoover, whose machines were always upright.
By the second half of the century, electricity was taken for granted. Electricity supply was nationalised in 1947 and a consumer boom in electrical goods fuelled demand for the modern, clean 'fuel of the future'. The range of common electrical household goods expanded to include televisions and washing machines. By the mid-1960s, 61% of London households had a refrigerator and 42% a washing machine. By the end of the century, 98% of London households had a television, 90% had a washing machine, and the number of homes with a computer was rising fast.
In 1989, the electricity supply industry was returned to the private sector and London ended the century with electricity supply once more in the hands of a patchwork of private companies.
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