Looking across the range room at the Cavalcade recently, I couldn’t help but notice the collection was lacking in a few important pieces. Most notably was the omission of an electric range in avocado green. When one mentions the earth-toned palate of the late 60’s and early 70’s to appliance collectors, reactions are mixed. Colors like harvest gold, coppertone, poppy red, and avocado green are often shunned and dismissed as unfortunate or downright ugly. But in the era where these colors were in vogue, manufacturers were turning out truckloads of stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers and small appliances in these earth tones and people were buying them. Like them or loath them, these were popular colors. If you’re lucky enough to be over 40, chances are you knew someone who had an appliance in one of these colors.
Like most decades, the 1960’s started off quite differently than it ended. For large appliances, a bright and brilliant white was still the dominant color, and the chrome, pushbuttons and lights just sparkled off that gleaming white enamel. For those who wanted color, the cheerful pastels that were introduced in the 50’s were still available from many manufacturers. Large pops of petal pink, turquoise blue, canary yellow, and seafoam green would brighten any kitchen. Although General Electric offered a “woodtone brown” in the 50’s and into the 60’s, but it really was a pastel brown and it looked like a super creamy milk chocolate. These were appliances that were as happy and hopeful as the much of the United States seemed to be. We had just left the fabulously tail-finned 50’s, and now JFK was in the White House, it seemed like everyone was working, had a television, and it was Camelot. In my book, few things shout the joy of living your best life louder than a bright yellow range with a matching fridge.
As we know, by the mid-60’s we were in a very different place. We were thick into a war that many didn’t understand, there were multiple social movements causing us to reexamine priorities and established policies, devastating assassinations, rebellions and upheaval, demonstrations, and oppression. Change is largely unstoppable, and things were changing and changing fast. Nowhere was the change more evident that in our popular culture: music, fashion, film, literature, cuisine, and media.
As a giant swath of polyester covered the world, there were changes afoot in the American kitchen, as well. The 60’s ushered in a greater interest in natural foods and nutrition. More women were working outside of the home and looking for ways to prepare meals that didn’t include TV dinners, canned soup, and lots of highly processed artificial ingredients. In 1966, the USDA mandated food manufacturers involved in interstate commerce to include a list of ingredients on the labels because consumers were demanding to know what exactly was in those jars and cans. Young chefs in California were celebrating regional food sources and preparing food in new ways. Large cities were dotted with restaurants featuring a variety of ethnic cuisines, allowing Americans to experience new tastes and traditions beyond the meat and potatoes that were staples for generations. For many, these culinary adventures seemed downright exotic.
As the sculpted wool carpet was ripped out and replaced by a field of multicolored shag, the look got deeper, darker, and more reminiscent of shades that might actually be found naturally somewhere on the earth. The manner of the challenges and opportunities we were facing as the 60’s progressed had us in moods and mindsets that, for many, were incompatible with cotton candy pink and Easter egg blue. So, the colors of our manufactured world changed as we changed. The sideburns got longer, the lapels wider, dresses shorter, and the colors more intense. And seemingly right on time, General Electric introduced avocado green to the appliance buying public in 1966 (they premiered coppertone in 1964 and harvest gold in 1968). It didn’t take long for other manufacturers to roll out similar color choices as so many people were updating the décor of their homes to reflect the current era. You can always count on a large percentage of Americans to follow the newest trends.
Imagine my good fortune when I happened to see a beautiful 30-inch General Electric in avocado green for sale not far from me. One look at this clean and well-cared for range and I knew I wanted to take it home. From the serial number, the stove was manufactured in 1968, so it was in the second year of the avocado green offering. After I got it back to the Cavalcade and wiped it down and gave it a little shine, I was so taken by it that I decided to make it the next stove I put into service for the Cavalcade of Food kitchen studio. Maybe this range has a little more meaning for me because it really does remind me of childhood and the many beautiful earth-toned appliances I saw growing up. Yes, it's avocado green - because it had to be.
The '68 General Electric installed in the Cavalcade kitchen studio.