Beth Bunnenberg holds the magazine aloft with amused reverence, gazing at the woman in the holiday-themed ad.
"The vacuum cleaner is the most important thing under the Christmas tree," she says. "And she's vacuuming in high heels, because it was so easy."
Bunnenberg picks up another magazine in the current Museum of American Heritage exhibit, which she curated. This ad, in the June 1938 Woman's Home Companion, simply glows. The headline is "The One You've Always Wanted," and even though a bride is being carried over the threshold, she has eyes for only one thing: the new white refrigerator.
Located on Homer Avenue in Palo Alto, the museum is at the 100-year-old Williams House, where members of the Williams family lived until 1989. The current exhibit is part of a pair celebrating the house's centennial. While the first focused on the early years of the 20th century, the museum now displays electrical appliances from the 1920s, '30s, '40s and '50s: some original to the house.
The exhibit explores how these devices changed everyday life for the Williamses and other American families -- and particularly for homebound women.
Take the humble rug beater, for example. The museum has a lovely wooden one that resembles a piece of a basket with a handle. It's lightweight and sturdy, and probably dates back to 1910. You could still use it to whack the heck (and the dust) out of your Oriental rugs.
Or you could be seduced by the whir of the electric vacuum cleaner. According to a display card in the exhibit, the Air-Way company introduced the first vacuum cleaner with a disposable bag in 1920.
"These were supposed to be labor-saving devices," Bunnenberg says, pointing out a display in the middle of what was once the Williams' living room. Vacuum cleaners from the '20s through the '50s stand in a neat line, some with a sleek, aerodynamic-looking design.
"A major word that came in in the '30s was 'streamlined,'" Bunnenberg says. It was used to market everything from trains to home appliances.
The surge in electrical devices was buoyed by residents' greater access to electricity. In the first few years of the 20th century, the city of Palo Alto would turn on the electricity just from dusk to midnight; electricity was used only for lighting, Bunnenberg said. That soon changed.
The evolution of electricity in the home has been reflected in the pair of centennial exhibits. The first one, for instance, showcased an icebox and a crank-era phonograph. Now there's an electric refrigerator in the kitchen and a huge 1949 Halicrafters mahogany entertainment center in the living room, with a record player and an AM/FM radio.
"It could play 78s -- what I grew up with -- and 45s, and long-playing 33 rpm records," says Bunnenberg, who hails from Texas but has been active with the local historical association for years.
Records and album covers decorate the wood-paneled walls, and nearby is a 1950 television with a 12-inch screen, and a concave plastic magnifier that was placed over the era's diminutive TV screens.
"It (the picture) looked small to us in the beginning because we were used to movie screens," Bunnenberg says.
Shelves are filled with electric clocks, which came into vogue in the mid-'30s. There are also old cameras, shavers, portable fingernail-polish dryers and a plug-in, heat-up tie press.
The treadle sewing machine from the previous exhibit has been replaced by an electric one: a glossy black Singer Featherweight. It weighs 11 pounds and is thought to date back to the post-World War II years.
"People still keep trying to buy this one from us," Bunnenberg says.
Clearly the old ways still have some appeal, and even during the growth of electricity the Williamses sometimes harked back to previous years. For example, they had a brand-new refrigerator, but they still kept many items cool in a pantry cupboard, Bunnenberg says. Openings in the shelves allowed the naturally cool air from the basement to flow into the cupboard. And no need to plug anything in.
With many families coming to the museum, Bunnenberg hopes children learn the lesson that the latest technology is not always the only way. The appliances on exhibit were built to last, to be repaired and used for years, unlike the throwaway gadgets of today, she says.
"Some of these devices still work perfectly well," she says. "It's not the end of the world when the computer stops working."
What: The exhibit "100 Years At The Williams House: Look How Things Have Changed," showing a range of 20th-century electrical devices
Where: Museum of American Heritage, 351 Homer Ave., Palo Alto
When: Through Nov. 4. The museum is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Info: Call 650-321-1004 or go to http://www.moah.org .