The History of Gas Powered Appliances for Homes

First Published: April 19, 2016 Last updated: October 5th, 2019 Written by: Marcus Lowth Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes Posted in: Editorials

Take a look around your home, and have a quick calculation of all the different products and systems that you make use of. How many appliances do you have in your home? How many of them need some form of electrical power to make them run? You will find that, without the use of electricity, your home would be a whole lot less cluttered.

Gas Powered RadioYou’d not be able to read the article, for one!

However, the truth is that the vast majority of the products that we use today are electrical-based, with good reason. Electricity is a form of manipulation and powering our appliances and inventions that are controlled and utterly capable of being managed. Whatever you’re views on the way that electricity is costed and everything else, it has become the primary source of energy that we use in this current technological era.

That being the case, things could have been so much different in terms of how we use our appliances and software. In fact, many of us still use the alternative for some appliances – natural gas. Natural gas has long been a somewhat more volatile but arguably more effective source of powering different appliances throughout the home and we still use it for some things like ovens.

Once upon a time the idea of everything from washing machines and fridges to radios and phones being powered by gas, not a strange idea – it was something that was seen as the logical next step.

This has obviously changed as we make major adjustments to try and understand what makes gas-powered appliances such a volatile object, and the value of electricity. In this editorial, we’ll take a look at the history, the practicality and the analysis of why gas-powered appliances for homes made sense in the past, and why it might still make sense for some.

The History of Gas Supply

Whilst those of the smartphone and internet eras will not be too sure about the prominence of gas, those of even a slightly older vintage will remember the times when we used gas for just about everything. The rise of the usage of manufactured gas, without a doubt, one of the biggest changes to the UK in some time. In an era where advancement was coming thick and fast, the early 1800s was a time of immense technological progression and change. For many, it was the beginning of the era that has led us to where we are today – and gas was at the forefront of that.

The rise of major gas usage in homes was a big part of the United Kingdom and its push towards being a true global power once again. This came to prominence in the years between 1812 and 1825, when a huge number of gas companies began to appear. As a new employer and more or less a new industry, gas companies were popping up all over the UK, with the likes of Liverpool, Exeter, and Preston becoming leading parts of the gas economy for years to come.

Working gas lamp

These were the first cities to see gas become a major part of their development after London was obviously the first city to see such changes. This heralded a new era for energy that would see the vast majority of other UK cities making the same decision to follow along with the same ideas in the near future. This was the beginning of a pretty wholesale change that was going to re-affirm the way that houses and properties were going to be run and managed forever.

By 1871, every town in the UK with a population of more than 50,000 was without gas lighting! This rapid shift made a massive difference and ensures that the future of gas was going to be a profitable one for all.

The move to using domestic gas for cooking processes, though, was a fair bit slower. The public were actually unsure of taking this on – like many today, it was thought to be unpredictable and dangerous. For many, it was simply too big a risk and was not something that was considered too much. A major influencer in this was by gas companies, who did not want people using their gas during the daytime and thus many people were unsure of making the swift change to gas if it hampered their daytime cooking capabilities.

The famous Reform Club in London was a pioneer for this kind of thinking, as it first installed gas cookers in 1841 and a decade later at the Great Exhibition another range of these products was introduced to the public at the Great Exhibition. At this point, they started to become a popular product to see in households where people were making a nice living.

1930s gas stoveBefore long, though, gas companies realized in the incredible potential that they had on their hands. They soon started offering gas via rental cookers, paid for on pre-payment slots in the same way we would buy something via HP. By the early 1900s, this was more or less the only way to cook and was taking over the UK and beyond. This was thanks to the introduction of the 1923 thermostat, created to ensure that cookers were far more controllable and easy to manage for the purposes of cooking.

This changed the entire dynamic of how this would be used, ensuring that people would be turning to use gas as their primary source of cooking for some time. Whilst many households today would find it strange to cook using a gas equivalent, it was at one stage a technical marvel and something that paid a huge amount of attention towards the gradual shift towards technological reliance.

Like everything else, though, gas has become limited in its uses as we have begun to find more effective ways to power our homes and offices. Gas was something that was beginning to wane a little as the 1900s began to rag on, and by the 1930s it had begun to see major competition in the form of its eventual successor – electricity.

It was widely open to homes in the 1900s and this meant that gas companies were now competing with electrical companies for the affections of the public. However, gas had become popular and electricity had the same fight to gain authority as gas once had. Also, the early 1900s was the beginning of an era when we see things like the gas-powered iron, the gas-powered fan, and fridge selections as well.

Most bizarrely, gas-powered radios were a common selection at this stage, too!

Gas was all the rage and more or less controlled the way that most people lived their lives. Gas was a major factor and making a big difference but with electricity on the rise and having less potential dangers involved for the average person, it looked like there may have been a genuine change away from as on the horizon.

Most people today are only using gas for things like a central heating system, whilst professional chefs tend to prefer cooking with a gas cooker over an electrical model thanks to the impressive response levels of gas hobs. Gas is also cheaper than electricity, meaning that it still holds an appeal from an economic perspective.

Close to a century since the change from gas to electricity began to occur and make a rapid change towards, we look to be seeing another wholesale shift as now people want to move away from electricity. Gas-powered products around the home, though, looks to be a thing out of the past outside of heating systems; even then, in many households, electrical heating systems are beginning to become more useful and effective due to the hardship of finding gas from time to time.

Now that we have a basic grasp on what the actual history and style of gas was in the first place, let’s take a further look at just how practical it was as an idea. Whilst it was part of a major technological change, was it worth pursuing ahead of electricity?

Was Gas Practical?

Whilst the gas industry has always been a good choice for the industrial-sized warehouses and offices that many people work within, the idea of using gas for home appliances like radios – especially today – just seems ridiculous. We’ve tapped into greater forms of energy and power as time has gone on, but at one stage we only had access to gas as the way to power our homes.

Power grid

It might have worked for industry and other similar ideas, but the idea of using gas at home? Many people were still filled with doubt and reservations. So, was gas really the practical idea to start hunting down?

Should we have spent more time looking into a more accessible form of heating for our properties back in the day?

Or was this the right approach to follow?

What’s the major take on how effective gas was practically?

The main reason for gas expanding from its humble beginnings from things like lighting and cooking to more commercial aspects was due to the challenge that electricity has posed to gas companies. In the 1930s, gas companies started to panic and worry about the impact that the growing and rapidly developing electrical industry was going to have on their chance of being successful in the future. This greatly changed their impetus and made them more likely to expand and experiment in a bid to find something that would make gas the right domestic choice and avoid homes going to electricity.

What happened was that gas companies fought to stop companies from switching to electricity as they continued to expand their range of products on offer. They found several key products that people would want to have in their homes and had become a major part of their entertainment. Much like the internet goes hand in hand with most modern functions, gas played the same role in the 1930s.

At this point, people were turning to the radio as their major source of entertainment at night and beyond, and the gas companies had their own eureka moment – they could crate legitimate gas-powered radios!

The radio had to be plugged into the mains, though, which made it quite impractical for many households to make the most of. Still, at the time, it was a great choice for gas households without the cash to make the change and it also meant that they could have access to their radios without any problems. People were enjoying the growth of the BBC radio stations at this point and it meant that gas companies had to start thinking of their feet to try and get around their dwindling client numbers and their limitations with the power of gas.

The answer was the gas radio, and this meant that the developments had to keep coming. Standing at three feet tall and the radio at the top and a gas burner in the cabinet (lined with asbestos as everything was then) this massive radio became a major function in many homes as they turned to this now-hilarious sounding monolith. However, it did have one bonus that electrically powered systems did not have – this would actually help to power the home, as well.

Gas powered washing machine

This was improved by the addition of gas-powered washing-up machines. The washing machine was another practical if a somewhat crazy-sounding product that was released as people began to enjoy being able to use an easy and effective domestic washing machine powered by electricity. This counter-offer was supposed to make them stay loyal to the gas providers whilst offering something useful that people would have enjoyed having access to.

The washing-up machine was a major introduction to the table and made a big difference to the gas industry for a while, creating a small boom that ensures gas continued.

Offering you something comfortable and easy that would make a telling, significant difference to the long-term enjoyment of these products as they offered a solid alternative to the gas options which were being offered on such a regular basis. To improve upon this, many new products were released. From trouser presses and vacuum cleaners to gramophones, we have seen a major range of products released over the years that were gas-powered. However, the majority of them were just countered to the easier to use and less clunky counterparts that were powered by electrically.

The vast majority of these products were commercial flops and never had any real viability now that electricity was available.

Gas companies were panicking and in this fear, they started to release more and more ridiculously obscure products in the hope to capture market dominance once again. They had the full control of a thriving marketplace once upon a time, but it was now one with the advent of a system that needed far fewer extras included to make sure that it would work.

The main reason why they failed, though, was down to the logistics of the product itself. They used a thermoelectric effect!

A thermoelectric effect is a current obtained by exploiting the differences in temperature between the device itself and the surrounding area. This complex solution was used to make sure that colder regions could create energy through the actual limitations in the air – it was a bit more advanced than gas but came with the same immense technical limitations. It was this kind of hooky technology that was turned to in a bid to try and beat the electricity generation from taking over completely.

Today, though, there has been an obvious realization that to have gas power appliances it simply needs too many add-ons and improvements to make it work in the first place. This meant that over time as people began to prioritize space and minimization in their products that turning to something like this would make a pretty telling difference.

Size became a major issue and before long people didn’t want to have intrusive and large objects such as gas-powered appliances in their homes.

Gas-powered products today still take up a lot more room than their electrical counterparts and for those with space issues and limitations, this can be a bit of an issue. In the years to come, it quickly became apparent that using this kind of product was not going to be an easy way to manage a household’s space or size with any real ability.

The dream of the all-gas household was one that had no real hope once the idea of electricity and therefore much easier usage became apparent. What gas companies had succeeded with was being the only solution on the market; when easier to manage, safer and less intrusive methods came onto the market it started to really limit their ability to make this kind of telling contribution to the market.

Gas burner

Gas-powered products for domestic use, in terms of things like fans and fridges, were expensive and clunky failures – viability was never really available with these mods, unfortunately.


The one thing we haven’t really mentioned yet was the major benefits of using gas-powered products. Whilst today we have no need to turn to this lack of versatility due to our command of electricity and our ability to make products much smaller today, at the time of release gas-powered products came with some really useful benefits.

The first benefit was obviously the cost. In the past, it was much harder to get electricity into the home and it was more the realm of the rich that enjoyed this kind of luxury. The normal household could only really work with gas installations and for this reason, many households struggled to ever adapt to electricity for a long period of time.

Therefore those without the financial means to change could still use the poorly received gas products to give themselves access to these new features and thus making their own lives that little bit easier.

Natural gas as a domestic fuel also made a huge amount of sense as it began to become the trusted energy system. At that time, then, it had become a system that you could enjoy taking part in and using to your advantage.

Foreign fuel was a big issue back in the day, too. With natural gas lines established it meant that many companies were no longer reliant on foreign aid as more countries produced their own gas. Today, with the lack of companies still producing gas compared to back in the day, gas production has become less limited due to its lack of prominence in comparison to the olden days. This means that gas is still a precious commodity as it’s less common to find in your own nation as it was in the past at least in the quantities it was when gas was the major player.

Because of this, then, many nations have lost out on what was once a thriving industry for themselves. The reduced level of gas trade compared to its old levels means that many companies started to reduce their dependence on gas.

Whilst gas was at once stage the right way to go about powering homes and looking after business premises as the years have gone by it has been easier to use less dangerous, less volatile and less intrusive forms of energy.

Whilst gas will likely always have at least some part to lay in the energy industry, there is a much less serious need for gas than there once was. This means that there has been a bit of a major limitation over the years with regards to what gas brings to the table as it has been more or less usurped over time.

What is left, though, is an energy system that could have been the primary source of the world. We could be running gas-powered TVs today if it had remained as our main source of domestic power – as always though, new changes come along and make the old feel obsolete.

Gas was certainly something that seen its day in domestic appliance usage, but no longer.


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About Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years experience. Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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