In 1959, then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, met in Moscow to debate the relative merits of capitalism and communism. Though this took place during the Cold War, the two men debated not weapons or space technology, but…household technology.
Since dubbed “The Kitchen Debate,” the conversation sought to determine which country had better technology and a better way of life via its refrigerators and washing machines. It was timed to coincide with the opening of the American National Exhibition in Moscow, which featured innovative displays of American kitchens and laundry rooms.
After reading about this debate in a fascinating book called Consider The Fork, I immediately got online to find out what I could about the Kitchen Debate. I found a transcript of the spirited, humor-filled discussion, but what made me the most excited were the photos and videos of the Whirlpool Miracle Kitchen from the American National Exhibition:
A futuristic kitchen from my friends at Whirlpool! How cool is this?
In the 1959 “Miracle Kitchen”, RCA and Whirlpool teamed up to provide “push-button homemaking” which included a central command center, special heating and cooling units that would slide down from cabinets with a wave of the hand, and even a machine that scrapes, washes, and puts away dishes.
As you might remember, the brand’s theme at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was “Whirlpool 2020“, an updated look at what today’s “kitchen of the future” might feature. It featured technology like:
- CoolVox, a refrigerator that plays music from a hidden control system inside the machine
- Fireplace, a sort of 21st century answer to the traditional hearth, with both heating and cooling areas centered around a seating or food-serving area, and
- Fresh Direct, a system of modular cooling units and shelves which could revolutionize the way food is delivered and stored, especially in urban areas.
The following videos show the functionality of these new concepts and the current needs they could fill.
In both the Miracle Kitchen and Whirlpool 2020 concepts, I am struck by one big thing: imagination. No, not all of the Miracle Kitchen’s innovations have become part of the average kitchen experience, but the ideas of simplicity, automation and “push-button” cooking have all definitely become part of the modern home and when you watch the videos, you can see the influences that the ideas in the “miracle” kitchen of 1959 had on today’s technology.
When I posted a photo of Fresh Connect on Facebook, a reader asked, “Can’t you already do this with a cooler and some ice? Maybe this is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.” Fair point. But I think that the people who develop these ideas are trying to solve problems most of us just don’t recognize because we are so busy living life.
We get used to the dishwasher that’s too loud or the mass of cords leading to a speaker on top of the fridge instead of dreaming up a quieter machine or a fridge that cordlessly plays our iPhone playlists for us. In the early 1900s, maybe people didn’t think an ice box was a “problem” that needed to be solved, but I’m sure glad we have refrigerators today, aren’t you?
I love old stuff, and this is reflected in my decorating style. But in my kitchen, it’s logical and easy to blend old and new. I do most of my mixing with a simple metal whisk, but appreciate that I can reach for my immersion blender when I need it. I love my collection of 1950s Pyrex bowls and my old-fashioned Dutch Oven, but I’m glad to have a thoroughly modern oven to use them in.
Perhaps if I were a housewife 100 years ago I’d be too busy cooking and cleaning to imagine a better way of doing things, but I’m sure glad somebody else had the time and vision to do it.
I’m a traditionalist in many ways. But as I wrote in a recent post at The Happiest Mom, I’ve come to realize that technology is tradition. As a species we are innovators and dreamers: to create is to be human.
Nowhere is that better illustrated than in these two “futuristic” Whirlpool kitchens, separated by five decades of technology and progress but connected by imagination, creativity, and a vision for a better tomorrow.
So dream with me for a moment, will you? Forget about the way you’ve always done things, or the little inconveniences you’ve gotten used to. If you could imagine the perfect kitchen – your own personal “miracle” kitchen – what would be in it?
Whirlpool Brand sponsored my trip to the Consumer Electronics Show and my follow-up posts.