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Alexander Parry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

For: “Home Is Where the Harm Is: Laundry Equipment, Injuries, and the United States Voluntary Safety System, c. 1920–1980.”

The article is a polished, well-researched account of household hazards addressed by Americans in their own homes. Focusing particularly on the risks posed by new household laundry equipment such as wringer washers and electric irons, the author explores the way American society responded to the dangers–by trying to give Americans the tools to make their own homes safer, even as the burden of risk remained on private households.
In an era preceding federal consumer regulations, the burden of mitigating risk lay on American households, but help came in the form of education from safety professionals, product safety evaluations from third parties like Underwriters Laboratory and Consumers Union, and even through producers competing for markets by developing safer products. As the author points out, this “voluntary” system worked best for those consumers with the resources, education, and time to invest in making their households safer. While wealthier and more literate families were exposed to safety proclamations, poorer and less literate families were left out of this voluntary arrangement.
With telling anecdotal episodes and systematic analysis, the author provides a compelling history with expansive research across many kinds of sources (advertisements, magazines and news reports, nonprofit and government publications, public health and medical literature) and thorough, helpful citations. The author taps into several well-developed historiographies, such as the history of housework and domestic technology, the history of consumption, and the history of risk and safety, synthesizing this diverse historiography to make a new contribution that highlights the American emphasis on individual and household responsibility that continued to shape American expectations of safety even after government regulation increased.