Why didn't early 20th century houses have window screens?

I think that when you’re used to bugs, you just don’t care or notice them much. When we’re camping, the first two days or so, we’re all distracted by bugs, careful to keep the tent zipped up, lighting mosquito coils, etc. But by day three, the coils go unlit. By day four or five, you’ll stand there talking to someone at your tent door with the zipper open. By the end of the week, you’ve named your pet spiders who live on the inner roof of your tent and you makes wagers with your campmates as to who their next insect victims will be.

While I’m glad I have screens at home, it would have been a hard sell if I hadn’t ever had them before.

I remember in one of the books (Laura is working as a seamstress) and she is frightened when two drunk men come by and kick in the screen door of a saloon across the street.

And in Britain, fires would be burning most of the year!

The early 20th century Iowa house I lived in had window screens for summer and storm windows for winter. Storm windows were removeable glass windows that were for the purpose of providing extra insulation against the cold. Every spring they were taken off and replaced by screen windows. That way you could open the windows in summer, get ventilation and still keep the bugs out.

The storm windows were hooked over hinges at the top and had metal straps at the side to prop them open in case of a warm day and you wanted to open the windows. In winter insects were not a problem.

There are adjustable, temporary screens available in England. They look like this. They fit in an open sash (double hung) window, expand to the width of the window and are held in place by the sash. They are not as good as a screen that covers the entire window, but they are better than nothing.

I think the electrical lighting idea carries some weight. On any given night, a modern American family might have 2 megawatts of lights blazing away–something completely unknown to people at the turn of the 20th century.

Eve says window screens were introduced in the 1880s, but I doubt they were common–at least in the smaller cities and towns–until decades later.

Perhaps window screens became a fashion trend–and bugs swirling around the house correspondingly unfashionable.

I’ll echo David Simmons: screens were typically a wooden frame that you had to install every spring, and take down every fall. They were heavy and cumbersome and a nuisance. Plus you needed somewhere to store them. If some people opted out, it’s not that surprising. People didn’t get so wigged out by bugs back then.

Before any Europeans freak, I think I’ll revise that downward to 2 kilowatts. :wink:

I have one exactly like that for use in our kitchen, which doesn’t have built-in or detachable screen windows of its own. Can be very useful when it’s warm enough to let in outside air, but not yet hot enough to turn on the house’s central air conditioning.

When I lived in NYC, I had these in every apartment I lived in. They’re great when you don’t have any alternative. And they kept the cats from leaping through an open window and plummeting to their death.

Even 2kW sounds a hell of a lot, unless lightbulbs are bigger in America too of course :wink:

That’s twenty 100-watt bulbs, all burning at once.

I know for a fact that I don’t even own twenty lightbulbs, and even if I did, they most assuredly wouldn’t all be on at the same time.

<Jim Royle>
“It’s like Blackpool illuminations in here – and I’ll bet the bloody immersion’s on and all!”
</Jim Royle>

Well that’s great if you have sash windows, but most modern houses in the UK have windows that open by hinging outwards, like this one.

The windows in my house are like this, and I can’t see how you’d fit a screen on easily.

Then yeah, that sounds about right. I’ve got a ceiling fan/light combo in three bedrooms, one dining room and one living room. Each one has 4 lightbulbs. I don’t know if they’re 60 watt or 100 watt. I also have a bulb in the kitchen, one in the pantry, and either three or six in the hallways (I don’t know if they’re one or two bulb fixtures, we haven’t had to change them yet.) Two in the bathroom. That 25 or 28. OH! And six others in the living room in sconces on the walls. So 31 or 34. And a reading lamp next to my bed, which is on only when the ceiling light isn’t.

And I live in an average sized Chicago apartment. It’s not even a house.

Of course, there’s no bloody need for all those bulbs to be on at once. But tell that to my husband and kids!

Well, then you would need something more like this, a fitted casement screen. Sorry I couldn’t find a better picture, but the screens go on the inside, allowing you to open the window out.

My parents living room used to be lit with 700 Watts of light (2x300Watt Halogen + 100W near the entrance). If the three members of the household were all in different rooms that house could’ve easily crossed 3KW of light alone. Plus the three or four working computers, CRT monitors , TV, air conditioning, electric washer and dryer, oven - I wouldn’t be surprised if that house peaked around 80 - 100 amps.

Now, LCDs, CF lights, probably a lot lower.

Wow. I just totalled up every light in my house (3 bedrooms, one used as a study) and it doesn’t even reach 1kW. Did your parents wear sunglasses indoors? :cool:

Ditto what Colophon said, and that’s including some annoying multiple-bulb arrangements in the kitchen. Replace the low energy bulbs in main rooms with 100W ones, and I’m still not hitting a kilowatt. Even in the family house I grew up in, you’d have to count every exterior light plus the fluorescent tubes in the garage to be past 2KW.

I’ve looked a little, an it seems people inthe 18th and 19th centuries had covers for dishes, pitchers, and mugs to keep flies out. The biggest region I can find is the cupboard called a Pie Safe, which had doors maqde of tin with holes punched in it to let air circulate. The idea of putting some sort of block over the windows, rather than the containers, doesn’t seem to have caught on until later (where did Eve get her figure of 1880 from?).
You can say people didn’t mind the flies if you want – but the Congress in Philadelphia complained about them, though (playwrite Peter Stone didn’t make that uop). And I was appalled at the number of flies in the kitchens at some of the historical recreations we attended this summer. Surely the idea of putting mosquito netting-type fabric over the windows must have occurred to someone before 1880.

In my kitchen ceiling alone, I have 800 watts (eight bulbs at 100 W ea.), then there’s the ceiling accent lights, the downwash lights, the cabinet lights, toe kick lights, desk light, range lighting, over-sink lighting, yadda yadda yadda.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve got klieg lights in the loo. :wink:

When you live around livestock you have lots of flies. On the farm the screen doors were black with them The technique for entering was to bang the door a couple of times then hurriedly open it and slip inside. Then you grabbed the fly swatter because a few got in anyway. All the farm houses I was in had flypaper hung various places. Up until the end of the 19th century and even into the first couple of decades of the 20th, everone lived with livestock. There were always horses stabled somewhere nearby.