If you have just bought a mid-century modern suburban-type house and found a gold medallion affixed to the exterior wall, you might be wondering what this is all about. You might even be tempted to tear it off.
In the 1960s and 1970s, this badge meant that you were entering a house of technological marvels. No, it did not mean that the home had a Jetsons-like system of automatic dog washers and food preppers and plate washers. It simply meant that the home had a relatively new innovation that, even in that period, was not found with every home: it was 100% electrified.
From the Dark Ages of Energy to Clean Electricity
These medals, usually next to the doorbell, were placed on many mid-century modern homes built between 1957 and the early 1970s whose only energy source was electricity.
While it's hard to realize this today, because modern homes function cleanly and relatively efficiently, but homes built before World War II weren't so clean or efficient. Many had coal-burning furnaces in the basement, and coal would blacken everything around it. Or fuel oil might be delivered by trucks on a regular schedule. This oil would be piped into the basement, where it was burned in the furnace. Many homes still relied on dirty-burning and inefficient fireplaces to supplement their main heat sources.
There were (and still are) physical manifestations of older energy production everywhere. Houses on the East Coast in the 1960s still had coal chutes leading into the basement. Or tanks for the fuel oil would be buried on the property--today still considered a liability and a bone of contention whenever it comes time to sell a house.
So it was considered a great step up to modernity to use electricity. Electric water heaters didn't give off smoke or fumes. They didn't even need flues. Electric HVAC systems could pump hot air throughout a house. House fires, common with structures that employed open flames for heating, tapered off dramatically with electrically heated homes. Ads for electric heating systems of that period regularly stated that this was a flameless system.
By 1960, over 850,000 families were living in Gold Medallion Homes. Western areas of the U.S. that experienced a great deal of post World War II building will also be areas that have many Gold Medallion Homes: Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Phoenix, and Seattle.
Today, many homes have gone in the opposite direction, switching electric services to natural gas because, in some cases, gas is cheaper and a more efficient energy source than electricity.
Medallions or Window Stickers Advertised That Your House Was Modern
The rectangular brass badge affixed near to the doorbell. The phrasing of the badge changed over the years. The tagline is probably better remembered: Live Better Electrically, a play on DuPont's earlier and more famous and often mocked, Better Living Through Chemistry.
- Gold Medallion Home - Live Better Electrically
- Total Electric Award - Gold Medallion Home - Live Better Electrically
- Medallion Home - Live Better Electrically
In addition to the brass badge, 7" window stickers were available.
EEI and GE Sponsored the Program Along with Home Builders
The Edison Electric Institute and General Electric heavily promoted the program through magazine and newspaper ads, TV spots, and radio jingles. Future U.S. President Ronald Reagan even got on the bandwagon for all-electric living in his role of spokesman for General Electric.
On the builder's side, they received an allowance from the Live Better Electrically program. On the homeowners' side, electricity's clean, inexpensive, and safe advantages were touted.
It was also a convenient marketing tool. After World War II, home building began to ramp up. Builders had to add extras and bonuses to bring buyers to their homes and developments. A February 10, 1963 article about the Gold Medallion program states that "Back in the fifties, builders needed no special inducements to attract buyers but now the market is reversed... The building market is on a competitive basis and now the consumer must be wooed."
Keep It On or Not?
So while there is no practical reason to keep that Gold Medallion on your home, think of it as being part of your home's DNA. It was added there at the very birth of your home. Unless you have done something to change its 100% electrification status, such as bringing in gas for the kitchen stove, your home will always be a Gold Medallion home.