Back in the 1950s billboards appeared across Sweden with the tagline “Eva G?thberg says…”, so influential on society was the future Head of the Electrolux Test Kitchen, Eva G?thberg. A single mother in a senior management position, she was an unusual character for her time.
Eva is little known today, yet her story is one that changed both Electrolux and people’s lives for the better, as Eva was also the woman who taught people across Sweden that there was a new, time-efficient and ultimately liberating way to do household chores.
In the mid-1940s, Eva began her journey to shape living for the better when she joined appliances company Elektro-Helios, which later would be acquired by Electrolux. As head of the company’s test kitchen, where she reigned for 35 years, and as a member of Elektro-Helios group management, she had a huge influence on the development and final specification of the products. She devoted herself to representing the views of the housewives regarding the practical requirements of a long line of household appliances. In her kitchen, products were meticulously tested, over and over again.
When Eva and Elektro-Helios joined Electrolux in the early 1960s, Electrolux was marketing its products by educating the consumer face-to-face, often in their homes, and Eva would be instrumental in developing this. Her first focus had been the electric cooker. The concept of the wood stove was deeply rooted and the electric cooker had been met with caution, even considered dangerous by some. Eva thus travelled around Sweden and even Norway to host demonstrations educating women on how to use the electric cooker.
Eva hosted demonstrations on how to use the electric cooker
Eva travelled by train, lorry and even horse carriage at times. With her on her journeys she would take two electric stoves, a large box with electric cables, plenty of brochures, cookbooks and two custom-built sacks of kitchen equipment. For 90 minutes Eva would cook and let her audience sample the dishes. There were no assistants – Eva joked she was a ‘one-man theater’ – buying all the food, taking care of the local advertising, arranging contacts with electricians, seminars and schools. Even the King’s mother Princess Sibylla was interested in what Eva had to say about the possibilities of the cooker.
Eva and Electrolux CEO Harry Wennberg with the Swedish King’s mother Princess Sibylla
Then in the early 1950s came an economic boom and enthusiastic consumers were ready to purchase all kinds of household products. Eva set about demonstrating the latest company innovations – including a simple dishwasher and, top of the wish list, a washing machine. No longer would women have to spend hours doing dishes and laundry by hand and with the launch of these two products a household revolution had begun. Foundations were laid for a new division of household chores where all members of the family could now contribute. Eva and Electrolux were part of an industry that was liberating women.
The launch of Electrolux’s first chest freezer ‘the City Box’ in 1956 only accelerated this. The freezer was enabling married professional women to go back to work as they could fill their freezer with edible dinners and pastries for the family. Again, Eva went about educating people about the art of deep freezing – telling the tale of one man who she came across pouring his leftover pea soup directly into the freezer! Eva also began publishing cookbooks which included information about freezer technology and how best to retain the quality of the food. It is of little wonder she was named ‘Freezer Savior’ by one Helsingborg newspaper.
By the mid-1960s, modern appliances had revolutionized kitchen and family life. The electric or gas cooker and the refrigerator would be the standard in every Swedish home and a quarter of households would own a washing machine and chest freezer. The ‘housewife’ proved to be a relatively short-lived phenomenon in Sweden with close to half of Swedish households on two incomes. Eva had, in a way, inspired women to work and run an organized home at the same time, and her influence in society made her a household name. As well as appearing in billboard campaigns, she was the star of Swedish radio show “From One Consumer to Another”, where she shared her tips for running an organized kitchen.
Despite her celebrity status, Eva remained committed to Electrolux and the test kitchen until the early 1980s. One journalist wrote about Eva: “She sits with a stopwatch in her hand and with her eyes directed at a measuring instrument on the dishwasher. On the table next to her she has a table for listing time tasks, water and power consumption. Soon she goes inside the machine’s software program and extends the time for the first rinse. In that situation we found Eva when we visited her in the test kitchen. ‘Yes’, Eva replied, ‘now you can kill the myth that we just bake cinnamon buns.”
Today we celebrate Eva for this determination and commitment to shape living for the better.
Images and background information for this article provided by Eva G?thberg’s niece, Carin Lennartsdotter G?thberg.