Throwback Thursday: Electric blankets

What would our winter world be like without them?
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More than a buying guide of the best electric blankets, we dig a little deeper into the Australian psyche around family rules, childhood memories and heat settings for his and her side of the bed for this classic  winter warmer.

With the possible exception of Tasmania, Australia isn’t a nation that necessitates the use of electric blankets. But somehow it merely has to dip into single centigrade figures for us to scurry towards those down jackets and cashmere scarves bought on European holidays. Put a minus sign in front of that number and weather can become the lead story on the evening news.

That said, the old electric blanket was always more about comfort than compulsion. Simply put, they were a technological revolution. Back in the day, if you wanted to add a touch of artificial heat to your bed, there were three basic options, the first of which has no place in a family publication such as this. The most archaic was the enclosed copper or brass pan on a pole that was filled with hot coals, tucked under the covers and removed before ‘nigh-nighs’. This then gave way to the less flammable hot-water bottle… which was not really a bottle at all since it was made of vulcanised rubber and for the first few years of ownership smelled like a nearby tyre factory. Once the odour faded, so too did its structural integrity and many a slumber was rudely interrupted by – the better scenario – a long, slow lukewarm leak. You could have also had yourself a gusher.

“Legends abounded of so-and-so’s third cousin by marriage who was gently roasted in her sleep”

Unsung icons: Electric blankets
(Credit: Illustration by Matt Cosgrove)

When the electric blanket came along, it was initially viewed with suspicion. After all, this was (and remains) a form of power to be respected at all times, and urban legends abounded of so-and-so’s third cousin by marriage who left her electric blanket – or EB – on all night and was gently roasted in her sleep.

From Yallingup to Yorkeys, the very definition of a blanket rule seemed to be agreed upon by most parents: the EB could be fired up before bed but there was to be absolutely no sleeping with it on. And woe betide the child who tried to flout this edict; that little orange light on the control setting gave the game away if Mum or Dad checked up on you in the middle of the night. The fact that you were sweating in mid- August was also a bit of a giveaway.

(Credit: Illustration by Matt Cosgrove)

The first generation of EBs featured insulated wiring sewn into a grid pattern, which was ensconced in a heavy felt underlay. Depending on the quality of your EB, you could sometimes feel the outline of the heated wire between your shoulder blades, or scratchy EB fabric if a sheet became dislodged during mid-night tosses and turns. If you were especially lucky, you could encounter both in a single evening.

Thankfully, today’s EBs – transformed by elasticised borders – have pretty much put paid to all that, and now is the time of year when this investment pays toasty dividends. You could say – warning: dad joke pending – we’ve warmed to them.  

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