Author:Hiroki Shin (Birkbeck College, University of London)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the history of electric wires, meters and sockets in homes. In Japan, from the 1910s to 1950s, energy providers and users focused on this equipment in regarding legitimate electricity use. Using case studies, this paper traces changing practices and ideas of ‘proper’ energy use.
Paper long abstract:
In the history of electricity use, connective devices held a significant place for energy suppliers and users alike. When electric illumination was no longer the sole use of electricity, early electrical equipment became a constraint. Despite the expanding supply capacity from the 1920s onwards, upgrading household equipment lagged behind in accommodating the wider use of electricity. The majority of users had only one socket on the ceiling, which was intended for the electric lamp. The popular type of supply contract that allowed 'night only' electricity use also hindered the use of electricity beyond a few applications.
Users tried to get around the infrastructure constraints by connecting appliances to a single socket in turn, tinkering with the wiring to add more outlets or using multiple taps, though these methods were often against the supply contract. The situation deteriorated after WWII, when the power supply was under pressure. The utilities policed the users' 'illicit' practices with regular visits and patrols. Despite the companies' efforts, however, the Kanto region's electricity supplier discovered 135,000 cases of illicit electricity use in 1951. After introducing new meters, breakers and limiters, the utilities relaxed their attitude. This was not the end of the story, as the entry of an ever-greater variety of appliances continued to pose practical challenges to suppliers and users.
The history of connecting devices thus provides an alternative account of electrification. It also shows the co-evolution process of energy infrastructure at a point where supply and use met face to face.
Infrastructures in practice and in flux