A lot can happen in fifty years – particularly when it comes to the home.
We take so much for granted these days. As we walk through the door after a long day at work, glancing at the smartphone-linked doorbell camera, we ask Alexa to turn the lights on before summoning a favourite playlist to ring out around the house on Sonos.
It’s all so easy and normal.
However, if we stop for a few moments to consider what’s possible in the modern home thanks to brilliant engineering and the constant evolution of technology, it’s clear how far we’ve come.
We thought it would be fun to look back at the key inventions during our fifty years in business.
The electric kettle
We don’t think twice about flicking the switch on a kettle and pouring boiling hot water out of it a few minutes later, but in the 60s, Russell Hobbs’ K1 was the first kettle to turn itself off automatically once the water reached boiling point.
As a result, the K1 quickly became known as the ‘Forgettle’ and achieved best seller status. Its distinctive red ‘on’ switch also helped it become one of the most recognisable and iconic kitchen appliances of the decade. That said, sometimes we enjoy a cup of tea from an old-fashioned Aga kettle with a distinctive whistle.
The automatic washing machine
Back in the 60s, the twin tub washing machine was commonplace, but the idea of an automatic washing machine was still pie in the sky for most people.
We’re all used to single drum machines these days, but back then a similar device would have cost the equivalent of £2,325 in today’s money! This explains why there are just 3000 launderettes left in the UK, which is another sign of the times.
Ever been to a Tupperware party? Probably not recently, but in 1960 the first event of that kind was held in Weybridge, signalling a kitchen revolution which resulted in coordinated food storage and people jumping on the bandwagon in order to earn money from selling the plastic containers. With the rise of the sentiment against single-use plastics Tupperware is becoming used more again.
Modern kitchens are awash with cool tech for food preparation, but in the 60s things were rather more manual.
The first Kenwood chef food mixers made their way into homes during that period and transformed the food preparation process by taking the time and elbow grease out of beating, whisking and chopping.
How many times have you lamented the sheer number of live and on-demand channels you have to choose from when you fancy watching something on the box?
Count yourself lucky; some people had to wait until 1967 to get their first glimpse at colour TV during coverage of the All England Tennis Club men’s tournament. First broadcast by the BBC in colour, you’d need a set costing £300 (£4,700 in today’s money) to watch it.
These days, calculators are everywhere (on your wrist, phone, computer – you name it), but it took until 1972 for the first pocket calculator to make an appearance.
Known as the Sinclair Executive, it cost £80 (£969 in today’s money), making it only really available to high flying execs. Do you remember when your school teachers told you you had to learn mental arithmetic because you’d never have a calculator in your pocket when you were older? Yes, us too!
Double glazing soared in popularity during the 70s thanks to the lower cost of aluminium frames and in part due to the UK’s building regulations.
This enables far more people to invest in their home insulation, thanks to the regulations restricting heat loss from buildings.
Previously only found in commercial kitchens, the domestic microwave first arrived in 1974.
It’s hard to underestimate the impact this device had on home cooking and convenience and it’s again something we rarely think twice about these days. Back then, though, the introduction of ready meals kick-started the convenience food revolution. With time pressures of modern life, it’s hard to imagine when everyone managed to cook from scratch every day.
We might be used to video-on-demand these days, but when the first video recorder was introduced by JVC in the 70s, it weighed in at 14kg and would have cost £2,785 in today’s money.
The earliest versions couldn’t record more than an hour of programming, but the ability to capture favourite shows and pause them while making a cup of tea was transformative. Remember when you wanted to record a show but the only available video to record over said ‘wedding’ on it?!
If you remember the 80s, you’ll probably remember one of the first home computers – the BBC Micro.
Usually found in schools, there were around 1.5 million sold before being discontinued in 1994. Beyond their educational abilities, the Micro also had some great games including the brilliant Chuckie Egg.
In 1984, Apple introduced the first Macintosh, and set a course for a computer which would continually redefine the industry.
Portable cassette player
The award for the most iconic product of the 80s probably goes to the Sony Walkman, which spawned countless copycats.
The portable cassette player was the first device that enabled people to listen to music on the move, and by the time the Walkman retired in 2010, it had sold over 200 million units.
Apple’s iPod may have subsequently eclipsed it, but where would we be now without the much-loved Walkman?
That £3 meal deal you rely on to get you out of trouble during a busy day? It probably wouldn’t exist if M&S hadn’t sold the first pre-packed sarnie in 1980 (it was prawn mayo, in case you’re wondering).
Now, everyone has one in their pocket or bag, but in the 80s, the Nokia Mobira Cityman 1320 was like something from another world.
It was huge and weighed about the same as six iPhones, but it started the mobile phone revolution – no question. And where would we be without mobile phones now?
If you lived through the 80s, you’ll probably remember getting your first CD player.
First launched in Japan in 1982, the commercial CD player went worldwide the year after and made CDs the medium of choice for music lovers for decades.
Laptops and operating systems
Although most people seem to prefer iPads to laptops these days, the latter was a revolution when introduced by IBM in the 90s.
The ThinkPad 300 finally freed workers from desks and enabled on-the-go computing that would change the way people work forever.
Microsoft achieved a similar feat when it introduced Windows 3.1. It did away with the text-based operating system and introduced graphical elements that were far more intuitive and appealed to a much wider audience.
Remember the GameBoy? It helped bored kids (and adults) pass the time and even gave rise to its own syndrome known as the ‘Tetris effect’ which resulted in people having hallucinations of slotting imaginary bricks together after playing the game for hours on end.
The PlayStation 1 is another iconic product which significantly upped the game in terms of cinematic gaming experiences in homes.
When Dyson did away with dusty bags, it turned what was once an irritating, messy machine into something everyone suddenly wanted.
Their iconic vacuum device has, literally, cleaned up ever since. Nowadays the Shark and of course the Roomba are pretty popular too.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a car, and the Toyota Prius is one which needs special mention.
Released in 1999, it was a pioneering hybrid vehicle and the first commercially available. With Teslas now a regular sight on UK roads, it’s only fair to highlight the Prius’ early efforts to make us all aware of the benefits of running environmentally friendly cars.
So there you have it; 50 years in a nutshell.
What was your favourite product of the last fifty years?
If you want to look towards the future and make use of the best new home technology, get in touch!