News and views / Penny pinching / Vintage

Vintage utility bills – Then and now

Experts trying to cut electricity costs down by inventing a machine that runs on intense stares…

As we’re in the middle of our vintage spectacular, we thought we would look at something a little bit different. We’re currently moving house, and therefore looking into new utility providers, so we thought we would do a bit of research into what bills were like in days gone by. We were actually quite surprised by our findings, which involved heavy research on the internet and a lot of advice a from utilities expert; Nigel.

The first utility bills

The first public utility company in the World was The Gas Light and Coke Company (better known as British Gas), which was founded in 1812. They were the first company to measure the amount of gas people were using in their homes, or businesses, and then charge them for it. Before long, electricity was used on a commercial basis and therefore electricity meters were bought in, to measure usage of that utility too. It seems as though the British couldn’t wait to pay bills, as we created the first ever electricity meter, called the reason meter. Apparently, it didn’t go down very well with residents and businesses, although we can’t ever imagine why. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to find out much about the first ever utility bill, although we’d very much like to see how much it cost. We do know it would have been billed by British Gas, and probably worked out with an abacus. Probably.

A ‘Reason Meter’ – I reason that my bills are too high!

1950’s utility bills

The one era that we could find the most utility bill information on was the 195’s’. That doesn’t mean that there were no significant changes to utilities between 1812 and 1950, it just seems as though they weren’t very well documented. This was the decade following WWII,and it’s seen as one of the most prosperous times in the World, especially for the UK and USA. It is estimated that around 98% of the US population had electricity by the late 1950’s, with figures just below that for the UK (probably because Hitler had wiped out a lot of our power lines). However, there was some pretty strange advice given out surrounding utilities during this time, especially in America, as users were told to use more electricity in order to keep costs low. Oh, if only that really worked nowadays. The average utility bill costs in the USA were $3 per month and around £1.80 per month in the UK.

He’s looking happy now, but wait until the TV licensing bill turns up.

Utility bills now

We’re sure we don’t have to say a lot about utility bills now, and their ever rising costs. When prices of utilities were worked out in the past, it would be based on the average income, interest rates and that was about it. Now, it seems as though utilities are worked out by how big a bonus the bosses want to take home that year! The great thing about utility bills in the past was that they would normally come straight from one provider, as opposed to several different ones. There are some companies that still operate this way, such as Utility Warehouse, which is where our expert, Nigel, is from. He says that by using one main company for all of your utilities, it cuts out all those administration costs and ‘added extras’ (we think he means the bosses’ bonuses). It makes sense to us, and although we’re now on the cheapest tariff we can get, we still think we should be paying £1.80 a month for it all. Of course wages are a lot higher than they were in the 1950’s, and everything must rise in proportion, but it seems as though utility bills are one thing that has got completely out of hand.

‘A girl like this, likes a look like this’… If you can afford it after all of your utility bills.

What do you think on the matter? Do you think we are all paying far too much for gas and electricity? If we have any math geniuses reading, perhaps you could tell us what the difference is between then and now? We would love to hear your thoughts, especially if you remember how much your bills were in the past!


Please note that with all of our links we do not do ‘paid for’ recommendations. Our links are simply chosen based on our own experiences, and through the expertise of others.


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