Nineteenth Century Smart Homes — What Did They Look Like?

by Carson BuckJune 18, 2018

Home Conveniences Aren’t New to the Industry

Utilizing SMART home devices, appliances, and services like Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and others, the homes of the future are being built today. But, homes with built-in conveniences aren’t as new as you might think. In fact, the modern-day SMART home has a lineage that can be traced all the way back to the nineteenth century!

Wonder what 19th Century SMART homes looked like? Here are some of the incredible advances introduced into homes during the same century in which Louisiana was purchased from the French and the telephone was invented.

19th century home conveniences

In-Home Call Systems

In-home call systems were invented in England in the 18th century and they found their way into American homes during the century that followed. They were originally designed as a system of speaking tubes used for calling the home’s servants.

The series of tubes featured bells on them that when rung, the servant would know which room in the home the individual was calling from. The tube carried the voice of the speaker from point A to point B and a conversation could take place. These systems remained in place until electricity made its way into homes, which thereafter enabled them suitable for the telephone.

Milk & Package Receivers

A milk and package receiver was a cast-iron box that was built into the side of the home back in the late 19th century. The box had two doors, one on the outside and one on the inside. The box was used by milkmen and mailmen to deliver milk or packages during times when the homeowner wasn’t at home or unavailable to receive them.

The deliveryman would open the external door, slide the delivery in, and close the door. The homeowner would then retrieve their items at their leisure by opening the door on the inside. Because the box was constructed out of cast-iron, it kept milk cold in the summer and prevented it from freezing in the winter. Consider the milk and package receiver the original “virtual doorman.”

19th century home conveniences


Dumbwaiters were popular in England and France in the 18th century, but Thomas Jefferson would introduce them to America near the end of the century. However, the original dumbwaiter was nothing like the in-wall elevator-like delivery system we know today.

The original dumbwaiter was a simple tiered serving table that contained everything necessary for a meal to proceed from beginning to end, including the food and utensils. Jefferson brought them to America as a means of not having to interact with his servants while he was entertaining his guests.

In 1887, inventor George W. Cannon filed the patent for the first mechanical dumbwaiter in New York City. These, too, were first used by New York’s elite to have food and other items delivered to their rooms without having to interact with servants. Eventually, dumbwaiters would make their way into New York tenements and apartment buildings and, believe it or not, they’re still being manufactured and used today.

19th century home conveniences

The 19th Century Was a Crucial Period in the Country’s Progression

During the 19th century, America was in the midst of the Second Great Awakening and the Second Industrial Revolution. The century was responsible for the light bulb, the gramophone record, aspirin, anesthesia, the first electric motor, the sewing machine, the safety pin, and so much more. With so many innovations brought to light, it should be no surprise that the 1800s laid the groundwork for so many of the in-home conveniences we enjoy today.

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About The Author
Carson Buck
Carson is a real estate agent based out of Phoenix, Arizona. Carson loves data and market research, and how readily available it is in today's world. He is passionate about interpreting these insights to help his clients find and buy their perfect home. Carson got into the real estate industry because he loves the feeling of handing over the keys to a new home to happy clients. In his free time, he works on his backyard bonsai garden and spends time with his wife, Julia.