The Home + Garden Show, which runs until Sunday, is like the parade of homes: some people are excited about bright, new and often expensive ideas, and some come away a bit depressed by the homes and gadgets they will never have.
The tradition of inspiration and disappointment is not new. It goes back 100 years or more. An ad in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune for the 1922 Building Show boasted 250 exhibits on “equal interest for the owner of a bungalow or high-rise”.
The newspapers of the time, prone to boosterism, made it a resounding success and proof of the boundless vitality of our city.
Held at the fortress-like Kenwood Armory, the show drew 20,492 people, who gathered to watch the day’s innovations.
The Minneapolis Morning Tribune reported the details of a marvel: “Potential builders are showing great interest in the 16-inch-long, eight-inch-tall cement block that is on display at the Minnesota Cement Block and Tile booth. Association. .”
There were also mentions of shingles and paint, and the popular “cabinet ironing board”, which is believed to have been a board that hid in the wall like a Murphy bed. But the star of the show was the new high-tech idea that had everyone buzzing.
Minneapolis had electricity since hydroelectric power came online in 1882. But it took time. To build the grid, to bring electricity to homes. And it took some time to convince some people to throw away the oil lamp and cooler.
Wiring a house was one of the show’s prizes, according to a news article from the show. “The Association of Electrical Contractors and Dealers, each of whom is an ‘Electrician,’ a copyrighted designation, will wire a new home free of charge after the building show closes.” There was a raffle for a $75 credit for plugging in “an old, unwired house.”
The trade journal “Electrical Merchandising”, the internal organ of the electrical engineers, contained pages of advertisements for items that people could plug into their new sockets: an electrically lit toilet bag, an electric clothes dryer. And, of course, the radio.
If the commercials and trade magazines were rave reviews, consider Polly.
The Minneapolis Morning Tribune had a writer named Edith Shedlove, who went by the name “Pollyanna.”
She popped up in the pages to promote home shows, auto shows, or wonderful new things you could buy in stores downtown. A talkative booster, a la Barbara Flanagan, Polly loved the spectacle of the building, of course, and paid close attention to domestic innovations.
“Electricity is fascinating to everyone,” she wrote, “and so Pollyanna found charms abounding when she visited the Minneapolis General Electric Company exhibit.” She praised the Hotpoint Hughes electric stove as an example of the “latest advances in electricity” and assured the ladies of the town that everyone would not just want to see one, but would want to own one.
She was probably right.
After all, shops had opened downtown with big, electric-lit windows showing all the nice new lamps you could get. More wisps, more smoke, and all those new chic modern styles.
Innovation, conspicuous consumption, capitalism: the 1922 home show would have been familiar to us all.