Everyday Things Then and Now

I am going to compare how my grandparents lives differed in the everyday things from mine. I’ll use 1923 (which is when my grandparents and family moved into the house I remember) most of the time but sometimes the 1950s creep in there.  I can remember how different things were even when I was little in the 1940s from today.


For breakfast I had oatmeal with raisins, cooked in a stainless steal pan on a gas stove. Water from the faucet. Oatmeal from a cardboard container with a plastic top, milk from a waxed cardboard carton stored in the electric refrigerator. My grandmother used a long legged gas stove. They still kept it in the basement when I was growing up.  My grandfather cooked the holiday turkeys in it.  They had to light the burners and oven with a match. More about kitchens in the olden days – Transitioning into the modern kitchen


Back in 1923 my grandparents would have had an ice box to keep food cold. The ice man would have delivered the ice. Milk was in glass bottles.  Leftovers were kept in china containers with matching tops.  I remember a green one. Or in glass bowls with cloth tops with elastic around the edges to put over the container. Our leftovers are in glass dishes with plastic tops that always end up splitting.  We also use plastic containers that once held take out from the Chinese restaurant.  She kept her butter on a saucer in the cupboard so that it would be ready for spreading.  I do the same with mine.  They kept chickens in their Detroit backyard so eggs came from them.  We buy ours at the supermarket.


Washing dishes – I use a plastic dish pan. My grandmother (and so did we) used a metal one. I would still if I could find one.  I fill another container with rinse water.  So did she.  She saved leftovers, cut them small and put them outside on the bird feeder.  I throw mine in the plastic garbage can lined with a plastic bag.  It goes outside to the big plastic bin after dinner. A full days garbage fit in a small metal can that had a step on opener. They wrapped it up in newspaper and took it out to the metal garbage can.  There was a towel rack on the back of the basement door and a continuous towel hung there. We have a rack on the wall and hang smaller towels over them.

Washing clothes – I use a small washer/dryer.  My grandmother used a wringer washer and hung the clothes up on lines in the basement.  By the time we came along, she had an electric wringer washer but that is as far as she was willing to go.  When I was small, we had a wringer washer too.  It wasn’t until my mother retired that they got an electric dryer.  I like to hang my wash outdoors but haven’t hung any lines since we moved here, so it’s the electric dryer.


I spend lots of time working on computer research – nothing to compare with in my grandmother’s time.

Listening to the radio – Actually I’m listing to the radio via my computer while I type this. During the 1950s my grandmother listened to a small radio in the kitchen.  She listened to the radio soaps and baseball games.  I am listening to BBC4. Metamorphasis by Kalfka right now.  In the evening my husband and I sometimes watch programs on our screen.  It isn’t actually a television but a large computer screen that we have connected to a device (Hulu) that allows us to watch movies and old TV programs from Amazon and Netflix and PBS. It comes in via our internet.   There was no television in the 1920s.

My grandmother holding my mother with Mary V and Mershell and chickens. 1923
My grandmother holding my mother with Mary V and Mershell and chickens. 1923

Grocery shopping – We drive to the supermarket and picks things off of the shelf. We also belong to a urban farm where we pay a certain amount and get vegetables in season. My grandfather had a garden and they had an apple tree.  My grandmother made the best applesauce from the apples.  I sometimes make applesause from boughten apples but cannot match hers. They kept chickens in 1920.  I don’t know if they had milk delivered to the house in glass bottles like we did in the 1940s and 1950s but I’m thinking they did. It seems from reading  Got Milk? that milk in Detroit began to be pasteurized in 1916 and that milk men gradually replaced the milk peddlers that arrived with containers of milk from which they spooned into the housewives pitcher raw milk.

A grocery store in 1920 Detroit.
A grocery store in 1920 Detroit – Shorpy historic picture.

 A grocery store in 1920 Detroit. In the 1950s, I remember walking to a poultry market with my grandmother where she picked out one of the living chickens kept in crates around the room, they killed and plucked it for her.  In the 1950s my grandfather bought ice cream from a dairy in the neighborhood. It was always vanilla ice cream. The kind we get at the store doesn’t match the taste.

Bed lamp.
Bed lamp.

We sleep in a queen size bed, wooden frame.  My grandparents slept in a brass double size bed in 1923. They had headboard lights that hung over the bed frame so that they could read before they went to sleep.  Or turn the light on when they woke up in the middle of the night.  I use my kindle to read on before I go to bed and often wish I had one of those lights.  Read the story of the brass bed here Dollhouse Update.

I almost forgot the bathroom!  We have three bathrooms in this small house. Mine is the size of a closet, containing a stall shower, corner sink and toilet. There is no window. My grandparent’s bathroom was a full size room that was a bathroom.  It had a claw foot tub, a toilet, a sink, a cupboard and a kerosene heater to warm up the room before baths. The window looked out on the neighbor’s house, but it wasn’t so close you could hear them talking.  My cousin Dee Dee made up a story that the tub was magic and that it could go up through the ceiling somewhere magical, not the attic we knew was up there.  They always used floating ivory soap for bath soap.  I do too.  And they used lava soap at the sink to get the grime off. It was a gritty gray soup.

I wish I had a claw foot tub today!
I wish I had a claw foot tub today!

For more about the house on Theodore, T is for Theodore Street.

10 thoughts on “Everyday Things Then and Now

    1. They were better recyclers and they often had better material to work with in the first place. plastic just doesn’t seem to last as long as some other materials. And for sure doesn’t look as picturesque.

  1. I agree. This is an excellent post! The changes you’ve seen in you lifetime are amazing. I love the detail you gave to this post. I forgot completely about some of things I’ve seen. I used to go with my paternal grandmother to the butcher after she went to the grocery store. She could purchase meat at the grocery but she always preferred having things cut a certain way or choosing her meats.

    1. After I finished this post I was thinking I should go take pictures of all the appliances and bathroom etc. because it will be interesting to my grandkids or their children in 90 years or less.

      1. Good idea ! My Mum used to send is to the butchers and ask off the top end of the pork if the butcher gave us the wrong piece of the meat we have to take it back! Eventually the butcher got fe up with us going back so he would say meat for Mrs Giles and we’d get the best piece !

    1. Some of the things I don’t personally remember but I have photographs or they were unchanged when I was around in the 50s. Things seem to have changed slowly for several decades and my grandparent’s house even slower than that.

  2. Great post Kristin. I have spent some time comparing my time to that of my Grandmother and Mum – so the span of 1912 and 1947. Things have changed and I agree with Pauleen that it is not always for the better.

    I heard on the radio today (via my laptop) that some folk in the UK are suffering the worse financial crisis since the Great Depression with reliance on food banks. How can that be progress?

    Absolutely food for thought.

  3. Fascinating… I see more glass containers for milk and leftovers also more urban gardens now than 20 years ago as people are more thoughtful about their food. I wonder what will change between the way you spend your day and how the children in our family today will spend their day at 60 years old?

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