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“Forced selling”, domesticity, and the diffusion of washing-machines in inter-war America

Scott, P. ORCID: (2020) “Forced selling”, domesticity, and the diffusion of washing-machines in inter-war America. Journal of Social History, 54 (2). pp. 546-568. ISSN 1527-1897

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/jsh/shz064


This article explores the reasons behind the relatively slow diffusion of washing machines in inter-war America and the rise and decline of a distinctive marketing strategy employed to accelerate diffusion: door-to-door sales. Washers represented a particularly difficult selling challenge, as many white-collar households (and, in the South, most white families) had already out-sourced some, or all, of their washing, to a laundress or a commercial laundry. Consumer resistance to machine washing was particularly strong in the South, reflecting both the greater availability and lower cost of black domestic servants, together with attitudes, inherited from the slavery era, that clothes washing was beneath the dignity of white women. During the 1920s washers were mainly sold door-to-door, by salesmen who focused primarily on the large number of blue-collar families who relied on manual home washing. The Depression witnessed a change in the washer market, with a greater emphasis on over-the-counter selling and price competition. Yet diffusion remained relatively slow, as the sector failed to provide a machine that would give housewives what they wanted – a means of doing their laundry within the privacy of the family unit, without significant inputs of either effort or time.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Henley Business School > International Business and Strategy
ID Code:83706
Publisher:Oxford University Press


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