The (excessively) versatile household robot

Many new household appliances appeared during the 1900s. Some engineers tried to combine multiple functions in a single machine.

By NEMO Science Museum

Hoover vacuum cleaner ad (1950-03-23) by HooverNEMO Science Museum

By 1950, most Dutch households had a vacuum cleaner. 

Other electrical devices were also gaining ground, such as electric kitchen appliances and the iron.

Piccolo household robot View 1NEMO Science Museum

Then engineers had the bright idea of combining several household appliances in a single device...

...and the multifunctional housekeeping system was born – like this ‘Piccolo’ from Germany.

Piccolo household robot View 7NEMO Science Museum

The Piccolo was a food processor, with attachments for grating, chopping, blending, stirring, and grinding, among other things.

Piccolo household robot View 4NEMO Science Museum

The Piccolo also had accessories for vacuuming and polishing 

Piccolo household robot View 3NEMO Science Museum

The Piccolo even had a spray gun attachment, for painting and varnishing windows and doors.

Ruton Robot (1945/1960) by RutonNEMO Science Museum

Around 1950, the Ruton Robot (a similar multifunctional housekeeping system) was introduced in the Netherlands.

You could use it for all sorts of things, such as mixing, vacuuming, polishing floors, and even drying your hair.

instructions for Piccolo household robot View 13NEMO Science Museum

These housekeeping systems never caught on. 

instructions for Piccolo household robot View 5NEMO Science Museum

Perhaps because people don’t want an appliance in their kitchen that is also used elsewhere in the house.

instructions for Piccolo household robot View 6NEMO Science Museum

These housekeeping systems were just too versatile.

In the Piccolo’s day, the marketing of household products focused almost exclusively on women.

instructions for Piccolo household robot View 2NEMO Science Museum

Its manual’s cover bore the phrase ‘Piccolo helps the housewife’.

Household fair Amsterdam (1981-04-03) by Dijk, Hans van / AnefoNEMO Science Museum

At the Huishoudbeurs (the Dutch equivalent of the Ideal Home Exhibition), appliances that were claimed to make life easier were immortalised in verse by Dutch writer Annie M.G. Schmidt:

‘Surrounded by gadgets that are far too ambitious, I just sample the soup, which is really delicious.’

instructions for Piccolo household robot View 12NEMO Science Museum

Just over half a century ago, housekeeping was a full-time job.

instructions for Piccolo household robot View 1NEMO Science Museum

Aided by appliances and machines, the Dutch now spend just two hours a day, on average, doing household chores such as cooking and cleaning.

Credits: Story

Object of the Month – April 2021 Each month, NEMO Science Museum spotlights one item from its collection of 19,000 special objects. These objects, which were once part of people’s everyday lives, show us how technology changes over time.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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