This jug with mottled brown glaze and was made by Temuka Pottery and the National Electric and Engineering Company (NEECO).
I was at an early morning market recently and spoke to a woman clutching a coffee with both hands. She told me she didn’t particularly like coffee and didn’t plan on drinking much of it, but it was keeping her hands lovely and warm, hence its purchase.
My own hands were up my sleeves, cowering from the cold, so I was not only impressed by her logic, but a little envious too. If only I’d thought to boil the jug and fill up my own cup before leaving the house that morning.
It got me thinking about how important the electric jug is to our daily grind. A time-saving appliance so often used without thought, so easily taken for granted.
The first electric kettles began appearing on the market in the late 19th century. Prior to this, kettles were heated over flames. In fact, until the 1880s most people had not even heard of electricity, let alone experienced its benefits.
In 1889, the General Electric Apparatus Co changed its name to The General Electric Company Limited (GEC) and one year later released an electric kettle in London. In 1891 the Carpenter Electric Heating Co in Minnesota, US, manufactured a kettle with resistance wire enamelled to the base. Although this was revolutionary, it still took around 12 minutes for water to boil. This technology was also used by Crompton & Co, a pioneering UK electrical engineering firm in 1892, one year prior to their electric kettles being featured in catalogues.
Early electric kettles were found predominantly in the homes of the wealthy and were considered a way to impress people with the owner’s modernity. However, they were very expensive and had a limited lifespan at the time. Early versions contained a heating element that couldn’t be immersed in water so a separate compartment below the water storage area was used to house the element.
In the museum at Kiwi North we have two beautiful examples of electric jugs. One has a mottled brown glaze and was made by Temuka Pottery and the National Electric and Engineering Company (NEECO). The outside of the jug is made of non-conductible ceramic, topped with a hinged bakelite lid. Inside, the heating mechanism consists of coiled wires wrapped around a ceramic insulator. These ceramic kettles were made from the 1930s until the 1950s.
The other electric jug on display is a bit of a mystery. It is unmarked so the maker is unknown but its beautiful dark blue glaze and ornately designed lid certainly make it stand out as something special.
Also on display is an advertisement that ran in the Otago Daily Times on June 11, 1938. It promotes the NEECO Electric Jug as being New Zealand’s finest value with the standard version being 19 shillings and sixpence, and the special version being 25 shillings. Twenty-five shillings equates to one pound, five shillings, which would have been a significant portion of a weekly wage with men earning an average of four pounds, eight shillings at that time and women earning an average of less than two pounds.
The advertisement boasts the New Zealand-made jug is guaranteed and “available at your electricians”. It also mentions “Other Aids To Better Housekeeping” including electric irons and toasters, both significantly more expensive than the jugs.
It wasn’t until 1955 that the first kettle was created with an automatic shut-off switch. British company Russell Hobbs launched the K1 which used a bi-metallic strip at the rear of the kettle. As steam was forced through the aperture in the lid of the strip, it would knock the switch and turn the kettle off. This revolutionised the electric kettle industry once again and is the reason we can flick the jug on and walk away today.
Mel Williams, Visitor Services, Kiwi North