The Home + Garden Show, which runs through Sunday, is like the Parade of Homes: Some people get enthused by bright, new and often pricey ideas, and some come away a bit depressed over homes and gadgets they’ll never have.
The tradition of inspiration and disappointment isn’t a new one. It goes back 100 years or more. An ad in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune for the 1922 Building Show boasted of 250 exhibits of “Equal Interest to the Owner of a Bungalow or a Skyscraper.”
The newspapers of the day, which were given to boosterism, declared it a smashing success and proof of our city’s boundless vitality.
Held at the fortress-like Kenwood Armory, the show attracted 20,492, who milled around, looking at the innovations of the day.
The Minneapolis Morning Tribune related the details of one marvel: “Much interest is being manifested by prospective builders in the 16-inch-long and eight-inch-high cement block which is being exhibited in the booth of the Minnesota Cement Block and Tile Association.”
There were also mentions of shingles and paint, and the popular “cabinet ironing board,” which one presumes was a board that tucked away 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 had electricity since the hydroelectric power was turned on in 1882. But it took a while. To build out the grid, to bring electricity into homes. And it took a while to convince some people to dump the oil lamp and the icebox.
Wiring a home was one of the show’s prizes, according to a news item from the show. “The Association of Electrical Contractors and Dealers, each of whom is an ‘electragist,’ a copyrighted designation, will wire free of charge a new home after the close of the building show.” There was a drawing for a $75 credit for hooking up “an old and unwired home.”
The trade journal “Electrical Merchandising,” house organ of the electragists, had pages of ads for items people could plug into their new sockets: an electrically lighted vanity case, an electric clothes dryer. And, of course, the radio.
If the ads and trade journals were laudatory, consider Polly.
The Minneapolis Morning Tribune had a writer named Edith Shedlove, who went by the pen name of “Pollyanna.”
She appeared in the pages to promote home shows, auto shows or wonderful new things you could buy in the stores downtown. A chatty booster, a la Barbara Flanagan, Polly loved the building show, of course, and paid particular attention to domestic innovations.
“Electricity is fascinating to everyone,” she wrote, “and so Pollyanna found charms plentiful when she visited at the Minneapolis General Electric Company’s exhibit.” She praised the Hotpoint Hughes Electric stove as an example of “The Latest Strides Made in Electricity,” and assured the ladies of town that everyone would not only want to see one, but would want to own one.
She was probably right.
After all, stores had opened downtown with big windows, electrically lit, showing all the lovely new lamps you could have. No more wicks, no more smoke, and all these chic new modern styles.
Innovation, conspicuous consumption, capitalism: 1922’s home show would have been familiar to us all.