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My Home in the 1740s....Your Home, Today

My house was torn down more than 180 years ago. So, I can't show you a picture of it. But a friend's house is still standing today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Photo courtesy of
Independence Hall Association.
Legend has it that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag during our War for Independence. Mrs. Ross's house (shown to the left) was built in 1740. A flag like the one she is said to have made is hanging in front.

Our homes did not have the luxuries you have today. The next time you complain about having to do laundry in your home washing machine or at a laundromat, imagine what we had to do in 1740.

We had to heat water in a fireplace and dump it into a big tub, scrub the clothes on a wooden washboard with handmade soap, and hang them outside on a rope line to dry using whittled, wood clothespins!

Talk to your Dad or Mom about ways that your family can use energy sensibly. You can find some ideas that seem new but are really more than 260 years old.

Homes in 1740

The fireplace was the center of all activity in most homes in the 1740s. That's because the fireplace provided warmth for the people in the house, hot water for cooking and cleaning, and ovens for baking bread. One important use of the fireplace was to make ashes to be made into homemade soap!

Instead of clicking on an electric light, people in 1740 would light a candle. Many people made their own candles out of tallow or animal fat.

A tool called a "brazier" was sort of a portable fireplace. It looked like a long-handled covered pan. People would fill it with burning coals and use it to cook food or heat rooms.

Irons in 1740 were made out of plain, heavy iron. The irons were kept hot in a fireplace. When it cooled, another one was used.

Foods that had to be kept cool, such as milk and cheese, were often kept in a special stone house. The heavy stones helped insulate the house to keep it cool so the foods wouldn't spoil.

People scrubbed their clothes on wooden scrub boards. We had no washing machines.

With no television or video games, what did children do for fun in 1740? Of course, household chores took up many hours of the day. But in their spare time, children 250 years ago did many of the same thing you do today -- they played with balls and dolls, read books and played games outside.

Your Home Today

Photo courtesy Greg Holman

Homes built today are much more energy efficient than my house or Betsy's house. Your homes have insulation in their walls to keep out the heat in summer and cold in winter.

The windows today are thicker and have more than one pane of glass. Many of your new appliances use very little energy.

But some ideas we used to save energy 250 years ago can be used today.

Energy-aware people use an idea similar to 1740's candles. Instead of lighting up a whole room, use a single light on the job you're doing. So, use a single lamp right where you're reading. Don't turn on all the lights in the room.

Households in 1740 owned lots of sheets and towels because winters were too cold to hang the linens outside to dry. The sheets would freeze solid. Your family can use the same idea by waiting until you have a full load of clothes before you run the washing machine.

Instead of a stove or oven, consider using small appliances for your family's cooking (just like using an old time brazier). A microwave oven, toaster oven or electric frying pan does the job just as well, while saving energy.

Any appliance that gets hot -- like an electric iron -- wastes a lot of energy heating up. Reduce heat-up waste by ironing many clothes at the same time.

TVs, VCRs and video games are a great way to stay entertained. But be sure to turn them off when you're not using them. Better yet, think of other ways to have fun while saving energy -- play a board game, read a book, play outside, ride your bike in the fresh air.

In the 1740s, they kept a hot fire during the daytime and let it die down to coals at night. You can do the same thing this winter -- ask your folks to keep the thermostat set at 68 degrees during the day and 58 degrees at night. The blankets on your bed will keep you warm.

Keep foods cool is a lot easier with an electric refrigerator, isn't it? You can save energy by deciding what you want before you open the refrigerator door, then taking it out and closing the door quickly.

Things are much different today than back in 1740. But some ideas to save energy are more than 250 years old!

Let's go back to Poor Richard's Energy Almanac to learn more about energy.

Click on my picture to take you back.

Return to Poor Richard's Energy Almanac.

Or if you want to go back to the Energy Quest HomePage, click on the EQ.

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Page updated: May 1, 2002
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