A note to fans of Little Golden America: as of issue No. 22, Admit Two adopted a PDF format, which means you will have to access individual back issues to get to further chapters of Ilf and Petrov's American adventure.
… Mr. Ripley's Electric House
MR. RIPLEY led us to the entrance of his little house and asked us to
press the button of an electric bell.
Instead of the usual bell we heard melodic sounds as if issuing from a
music box. The door opened by itself, and we found ourselves in the
Mr. Ripley walked up to a box hanging on the wall, opened a small door
with an accustomed gesture, and showed us an electric machine.
“Five types of electric bells,” he said, with a smile. “If a guest rings at the
door, you hear the melody that you have just heard. If you press the but-
ton in order to call for a servant from the room, yu hear an aria from
Mr. Ripley pressed a button and the apparatus actually played “Love
like a bird, but unearthly…”
“The bell for breakfast is the Yale University March, and the bell for
dinner is an English Christmas carol. There is also an alarm signal. Alto-
gether there are five types of electric bells. It’s a pity that our firm has not
yet invented a signal which could tell what kind of guest was ringing—
pleasant or unpleasant,” said the master of the house.
Having made this joke, Mr. Ripley laughed.
“But this is nothing—merely an electrical curiosity. Now I will ask you to
come into my office.”
Mr. Ripley represented a widely scattered type in America, the pink-
cheekd and gray-haired businessman. This type is mad up of Americans
between forty and fifty years old, prospering on good incomes, a good
appetite, and a tremendous reserve of optimism. Having at the age of
forty become pink-cheeked and gray-haired, the gentleman remains so
to the end of his days, and after that it is no longer possible to say how
old he is, whether fifty or sixty-eight. Arriving in his office, Mr. Ripley
sat down at once in an easy chair between his writing table and a shelf of
books, and, placing his feet on a chair, lit a cigarette.
“This is how I rest after work,” he remarked, exhaling the smoke through
He puffed hastily, without inhaling, intent on blowing out as much
smoke as possible.
“It is not so harmful to smoke,” he informed us, “as it is to breathe in the
smoke which has gathered in a room, isn’t that so? Most harmful of all
is bad air.”
Here we notice that the smoke did not spread through the room and
did not gather as usual, but before our eyes it drifted in the direction of
the bookshelf and disappeared among the books. Having noted the effect
produced by his actins, Mr. Ripley began to smoke harder than ever.
In the most miraculous way the smoke crept to the bookshelf, momentarily
surrounded the edges of the books, and immediately disappeared. Not even
the smell of tobacco remained in the room.
“Behind the books is hidden an electrical ventilation system,” Mr. Ripley
He walked to a round glass mechanism containing several arrows and
“The electrical instrument for regulating the temperature of the room.
You like to have it cool at night—let’s say, about fifty-three degrees. And
from seven o’clock in the morning you want it to be about sixty-five, or
anything else you may desire. You turn the arrow like that, and this arrow
like this, and you may calmly go to sleep. The instrument will carry out
your desire. It will be warm here when it is cold in the street, and cool
here when it is hot in the street. It will be done automatically. Everything
else in this office is a trifle. This lamp shade throws a comfortable light at
the writing desk. If you turn it, the lamp will illuminate the ceiling, which
will reflect the light and spread it over the entire room. Now the room is
softly lighted, while the source of light is hidden ad does not cut the
Then Mr. Ripley went into the dining room. Here were various elec-
trical instruments which were well made, although they did not astound
us with their novelty: a coffeepot, a toaster, a teakettle with a whistle, and
a frying pan for cooking America’s national dish, bacon or ham and eggs.
All these were the latest models. On the buffet, apparently for contrast, was
an old spirit lamp. Americans like to demonstrate graphically the history
of technique. Ford, side by side with his modern factory, has a museum
where are exhibited old automobiles and engines. In the yard of the fac-
tory of General Electric stands one of the first electrical machines as a kind
of monument; and in the cable shop, beside a lathe from which uninter-
ruptedly crawls the latest model of cable that is automatically covered with
a silvery lead casing, is exhibited Edison’s first cable encased in a clumsy
But Mr. Ripley delivered the main blow to his visitors in the kitchen.
Here stood an electric stove of amazingly clear creamy whiteness.
“In the lower part of the stove is a drawer for dishes,” said Mr. Ripley.
“Here the plates are always warm and it is not necessary to heat them
specially before dinner. You want to cook dinner, soup, and roast. You
prepare the soup meat and the vegetables, put them in the pot, add water,
and put it on top of the stove. Then you prepare the meat for the roast and
put it in the oven. Then you go up to a special apparatus on the right
side of the stove and move one arrow to ‘soup’ and the other to ‘roast.’
After that you can calmly go to work. The dinner will not be spoiled, even
if you do not return until evening. As soon as it is ready, the heating au-
tomatically decreases. Only a low temperature will be kept up, so that
the dinner should not be cold by the time of your arrival. There is never
any soot in my kitchen, because there is an electric draft right over the
Mr. Ripley quickly took a piece of paper out of his pocket an lit it.
The smoke and the soot disappeared immediately.
“But one thing is bad! After all the cooking there are many bones, potato
peelings, and other garbage.”
Mr. Ripley’s face expressed suffering, but a second later it was lighted
up with an optimistic smile. He walked up to a square metallic drum
placed beside the stove and raised its lid.
“Here you throw all the refuse and garbage and, after closing the lid,
turn on the electricity. In a few minutes the drum will be empty and clean.
The refuse is ground and carried away through the drains.”
Mr. Ripley quickly seized a Sunday newspaper, which weighed five
pounds, crumpled it with difficulty, threw it into the drum. We heard a
brief clatter, and the pink-cheeked gentleman lifted the lid with triumph.
The drum was empty.
In the course of ten minutes Mr. Ripley, as deftly as a juggler, solved
with the aid of electricity two more great kitchen problems—the preserva-
tion of supplies and the washing of dishes.
He showed us an electric refrigerator, which not only needed no ice
but, on the contrary, prepared it in a special little white bathtub, which
looked like a photographer’s, in the shape of neat transparent little cubes.
In this refrigerator were compartments for meat, milk, fish, eggs, and fruit.
Then the lid of another drum was taken off. It had a number of various
shelves, shelvelets, and hooks.
“Here you place the soiled dishes, spoons, plates, pots. Then you close
the lid and turn on the electric current. From all sides streams of hot water
beat against the dishes, and a few minutes later they are clean. Now it is
necessary to dry them. Oh, what a job that is and how unpleasant to wipe
dishes! Isn’t that true? But no! After washing, the supply of water auto-
matically stops and in its place dry air pours out of special jets. A few
more minutes—and your dishes, gentlemen, are clean and dry.”
Mr. Ripley quickly showed us an electric machine for beating eggs, and
then asked us to go upstairs to the bedroom. There he quickly took off
his coat and lay down on the bed.
“Imagine that I am asleep.”
Without any effort we painted in our imagination the restful picture
entitled, “Papa Sleeps.”
“But now it is morning. It is time to rise. Oh, oh, oh!”
He rose and yawned quite naturally.
“Pay attention to this lamp. I turn on the electricity, and while I, stretch-
ing and yawning, take off my pajamas, the lamp shines on my body. But
this is no ordinary lamp. It is an artificial sun, which gives a normal tan.
There are ten minutes at my disposal. I rise from my bed and walk up to
this gymnastic apparatus. Here I turn on another quartz lamp and, con-
tinuing to be tanned while lying in the sun, I begin my gymnastics. People
don’t like to do gymnastics in the morning. Our firm took that into con-
sideration. Therefore, you don’t have to make any movements. You only
put these belts around you and turn on the electricity. The apparatus mas-
sages you in the most conscientious manner. However, according to the
gentlemen, is far from being a perfect instrument. He might forget to
look at his watch and to turn off the electricity. The apparatus will not
let him forget. It will stop its activity of its own volition, and it will do so
precisely in five minutes.”
We had more than once met with this type of phenomenon in Ameri-
can technique. It is called “foolproof”—protection from the fool. High tech-
nique distrusts man, has no faith in his resourcefulness. Wherever possible
it tries to protect itself from errors native to a living creature. The term
which was invented to describe it is cruel, ruthless—foolproof—protection
from the fool! At the construction of the largest hydroelectric station in
the world, Boulder Dam, we saw a crane which lowered wagonloads of
materials into a deep ravine. It is easy to imagine all the complexity and
danger of such an operation. It is sufficient merely to confuse the electric
buttons that regulate this apparatus to cause a catastrophe. But there can
be no mistake. In the steering booth where the mechanic sits there is
only one button. The machine does everything on its own. It will never
come to work in a state of inebriety. It is always composed, and its re-
sourcefulness is beyond all praise.
Mr. Ripley continued to show us more and more new electric wonders
of his little house. Here were an electric razor and the latest mode vacuum
cleaner and a washing machine and a special ironing press, which has
taken the place of the electric iron, that anachronism of the twentieth cen-
tury. When from under a smoothly polished table he pulled an electric
sewing machine, we were already worn out. If at that moment Mr. Ripley
would have led us into the yard an, turning to the house, had said” “Stand,
little house, with your back to New York, with your front facing me,”
and the little house, like the little hut on hen’s legs, would have fulfilled
this request with the aid of electricity, we would not have been much sur-
It is time to tell who this Mr. Ripley is. He is in charge of the publicity
department of the General Electric Company. Translated into Russian,
publicity means advertising, yet this is too simple an explanation. Publicity
is a much broader concept. In American life it plays a role perhaps no
less important than that of technique itself.
We have come to associate with American publicity the vociferousness of
Barkers, countless placards, premiums, bleaming electric signs, and so
forth. There is, of course, that kind of advertising in America. However,
this method of uninterruptedly stunning the consumer is used only by
manufacturers of cigarettes, chewing gum, alcohol, or that cooling drink,
Mr. Ripley’s little house is not an advertising house. It is a scientific house.
Here the gray-haired gentleman, day in and day out, month in and month
out, calculates the cost of exploiting this or that electric appliance. By the
side of each one of them hangs a meter. Mr. Ripley carries on experi
ments and tests the new machines from the point of view of economy. Then
he writes a book. He is an author. And in that book there are no chauvinis-
tic cries to the effect that the products of General Electric are better than
the products of Westinghouse. On the contrary, when we asked Mr. Rip-
ley whether Westinghouse refrigerators are good, he told us that they are
very good. In his book he explains how convenient it is to use electricity
in everyday life, and proves with the aid of authentic figures that electricity
is cheaper than gas, oil, and coal. In his book there is precise information
about the cost of an electric stove per hours, per day, per week, and per
month. In conclusion he informs you that the exploitation of the entire
electric house costs seven dollars a week. He knows well that this
is the best method of persuading the consumer.
Contemporary American technique is incomparably higher than Amer-
ican social conditions—that of a capitalist society. While that technique
produces ideal things which make life easier, social conditions do not let
the American earn enough money to buy these things.
Deferred payment is the foundation of American trade. All things in the
home of an American are bought on time: the stove on which the cooks,
the furniture on which he sits, the vacuum cleaner with which he cleans
his rooms, the house itself in which he lives—everything is acquired on
time. For all this he must pay money over a score of years. Essentially,
neither the house nor the furniture nor the wonderful gadgets of an almost
ideal life belong to him. The law is very strict. If out of a hundred pay-
ments he makes ninety-nine and does not have enough money to make
the hundredth payment, the thing is paying for will be taken away.
For the vast majority, property is a fiction. Everything, even the bed on
which this desperate optimist and enthusiastic defender of property sleeps,
belongs not to him but to the industrial company or to the bank. It is
enough for a man to lose his job, and the very next day he begins to under-
stand clearly that he is no kind of proprietor at all, but the most ordinary
slave, alike a Negro, only white in color.
Yet it is impossible to refrain from buying.
A polite ringing of the doorbell and in the room appears an utter
stranger. Without wasting time on any introductory speeches, the visitor
“I have come here to place a new electric stove in your kitchen.”
“But I already have a gas stove,” replies the astonished proprietor of the
little house, the washing machine, and the standardized furniture, which
he must still pay for over many years.
“The electric stove is much better and more economical. However, I’m
not going to argue with you. I will install it and I shall return in a month.
If you don’t like it, I will take it away. But if you like it, the terms are
very easy: twenty-five dollars the first month, and then…”
He installs the stove. In a month the master of the house has had
time to assure himself that the stove is really remarkable. He is already
accustomed to it and cannot part with it. He sings a new agreement and
begins to feel as rich as Rockefeller.
You will agree that this is much more convincing than an electric sign.
It would seem that in the life of the average American—or, in other
words, of the American who has a job—there must come the moment when
he will pay up all his debts and really become a proprietor. But that is not
so easy. His automobile has become old. The firm offers him a new ex-
cellent model. The firm takes the old machine back for a hundred dollars,
and for the remaining five hundred it give him wonderfully easy terms:
the first month so many dollars, and then…
Then the happy owner somehow loses his job, and his new automobile,
with its two signals, electric lighter and radio set, is returned to its real
owner, the finance company which gave him the easy terms.
That’s the trouble! They don’t sell him trash, but really fine things. In
recent years the production of objects of mass consumption has reached per-
fection in America. Well, now, how can you restrain yourself and refrain
from buying a new vacuum cleaner in spite of the fact that the old one is
good enough to use for another ten years?
Not long ago in New York a new method of advertising was begun.
Into the apartment of a New Yorker who has been through the mill and
knows all the ropes enters a man and says:
“Hello. I am a chef. I want to cook a good nourishing dinner for you
and your guests—with my groceries.”
Noticing a sardonic smile on the face of the New Yorker, the newcomer
“It will not cost you a single cent. I make only two conditions. In the
first place, the dinner must be cooked in my pots, which I will bring with
me, and, in the second place, you must invite no fewer than seven ladies
to the dinner.”
On the appointed day the chef comes with his pots and prepares a pala-
table dinner. Toward the end of the banquet he solemnly appears in the
dining room, asks whether the guests are satisfied with the dinner, and
writes down the addresses for the women present. Everybody is delighted
with the dinner. The chef modestly tells them that a dinner like that can
be cooked by any housewife, if she will only use his special pots. The entire
company goes into the kitchen and examines the pots. Every one of them
is divided into three sections. They have some kind of special bottom
which presumably aids the preservation of vitamins. However, there is
very little untruth here. The pots are really good, and the conditions of
purchase are easy. The next day the chef goes to the various addresses
and closes his deals. The enchanted housewives purchase full sets of pots.
Again—deferred payments. The pots are actually better than the old. But
it is no easier to live. On the contrary, it is harder, because there are addi-
No! Electric sings and newspaper advertisements are merely the pre-
Every year in America an interesting event occurs. A building company,
having united with the society of architects and electric firms, builds a
house. It is something like Mr. Ripley’s house. But there, in addition to the
electric novelties, everything is a novelty—the architecture, the building
materials, the furniture, even the yard. Having built this house, the en-
terpreneurs, consolidating on a commercial basis, announce a national
competition for the description of this house. Any citizen of the United
States is free to describe this house, in verse or in prose. The author of the
best description receives the best-described house as his premium. This
event does not fail to arouse tremendous interest. The last time the house
was received by a poor sixteen-year-old girl. The newspapers were glad to
print her biography and portrait. She was offered a job in the advertising
department of a large enterprise—but the girl is, of course, beside the point.
The point is that, carried away by her startling happiness, the readers were
carried away at the same time with projects for perfecting their own lives.
In the evenings fathers of families put on their spectacles and, pencil in
hand, calculated that the purchase of such a house on very easy terms
was not such a terrible thing at all: the first payment would come to so
many dollars, and then…
Leaving the hospitable Mr. Ripley, we thanked him and in farewell
“Now you have lost several hours because of us. You knew very well
that we would not buy a refrigerator or a stove, didn’t you?”
“But maybe someday you will write about my little house,” replied the
gray-haired, pink-cheeked gentleman. “Good publicity is never wasted.”