How well do you know your vacuum cleaner? When did you last spare a thought for your microwave oven? The Secret Life of the Home gallery takes a close look at the development of those household gadgets and appliances that we use every day but often take for granted.

 Most of the objects on show date from the late 19th and 20th century but you’ll also find ancient Roman keys, 18th century cooking utensils and a 21st century robotic vacuum cleaner. In fact, you’ll be able to discover how applied robotics is one of the key ways in which the gadgets and appliances in your home will develop in the future.

You’ll also be able to see how styles, materials, technology and changes in society have influenced the design and use of gadgets and appliances over time.

There are loads of interactive exhibits in this gallery, so you’ll be able to discover how some of these appliances – including CD players and washing machines (and toilets!) – really work. You can also investigate different types of locks, try to outwit a burglar alarm and even play ‘Pong’, the world’s very first home video game.

On display

An automatic tea-making machine, c 1902.

Automatic tea-making machine patented by Frank Clarke of Birmingham, in 1902.

 
Electric iron, c 1880.

Early electric iron of unusual construction. The soleplate is heated by passing a current across carbon arc electrodes. The hazards of fire and injury to the user made this method dangerous and short-lived.

 
Automatic electric 'pop-up' toaster, c 1960.

Automatic electric toaster with two slots so that each bread slice is simultaneously toasted on both sides, with timer dial, encased in chrome-plated steel with pale blue panels, by Morphy-Richards, English, 1956-1966.