British Electrical Development Association (BEDA)

The BEDA was set up in 1919 and funded by a coalition of four associations of engineers from the electrical supply and manufacturing industries. Its mission was to promote the use of electricity and its primary target was the householder. The domestic market offered the greatest potential and, critically, the anticipated daily pattern of domestic demand would complement the different industrial demand pattern, reducing unit generating costs and supply prices. However, electricity had to overcome its competitive disadvantage to gas in terms of the higher costs of installation, supply, and appliances. While electric utilities pursued a loss-leader strategy, by renting out appliances at below-cost rates, the BEDA’s role was as a propaganda machine.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the BEDA ran advertising campaigns extolling the labor-saving and life-changing potential of electricity. It constructed a vision of a Utopian future in which the all-electric home offered comfort (“healthy radiant heat”), efficiency (“freedom from domestic worry”), and hygiene (“protect your family from food danger”). Electricity was described as “a universal servant with an eternal willingness to work.” This astute strategy simultaneously played on women’s fears about their proficiency in the home and appealed to their aspirations to spend less time on housework. The BEDA was at least partly successful: there was an increase in households with electricity in the United Kingdom from 6 percent in 1919 to 65 percent in 1939. However, many houses only used electricity for lighting, and ownership of electrical appliances was very restricted.

The BEDA’s role began to change during World War II when it had to reverse its message and encourage people to save electricity. It resumed its championship of the domestic appliance in the 1950s with campaigns such as the “Four Foundations of Modern Living” (cookers, water heaters, refrigerators, and washing machines). Success was more achievable against a background of rent– purchase schemes and growth in disposable income. In 1957, the Electricity Council was set up as the central coordinating body for the supply industry; in 1968, it absorbed the BEDA as its marketing department.