Humans doing all they can to make life simpler and more efficient has been a common thread throughout human history. All civilizations have found ways to eliminate or automate some of the difficult and tedious aspects of life.

This has been the basis for smart home technology and home automation. Technological advancements have enabled humans to use these tools to make life easier. But who invented the first smart home, and how early has the technology been in the minds of humans?

The Beginning of the Smart House

The first smart homes in history weren’t actually physical structures, but they were created in science fiction writing. We can date smart homes all the way back to Ray Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains,” a story that involves a computer controlled house that is capable of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of just about every need a family has. 

This short story is one of the first instances that we see a smart home, but the theme has continued throughout science fiction film, literature, and television.

Home automation truly began in a physical sense with the creation of automation products, beginning with home appliances.

  • 1901-1920: We saw the creation of appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, irons, toasters, and clothes dryers.
  • 1966: We were introduced to the ECHO IV, the first smart device. Though it was not commercially sold, the device was able to compute shopping lists, control the home’s temperature, and turn appliances on and off.
  • 1997: A device known as the “Kitchen Computer” was created this year. The tool was capable of storing recipes, but didn’t sell many models due to poor marketing.
  • 1991: Life alert tools for elderly adults began this year.
  • 2000’s: The early 2,000’s saw a further rise in smart home technology, including domestic tech, home networking, and other gadgets appearing on the market.

There isn’t thorough documentation of the first stand alone wall-to-wall structure smart house, but it appears that Push Button Manor may be able to take that title. This 1950’s home was automated and capable of being lived in. It was created by mechanical whiz, Emil Mathias, in Jackson, Michigan.

The bulk of the Push Button Manor’s home tasks were able to be completed with the push of a button. Though some of the home’s features were impractical, it was one of the first homes to show the capabilities of the future. Features included curtains that could be drawn automatically, a wind-powered coffee grinder, a vanity mirror that lit up whenever a dresser was open, and a series of clocks that were able to control all of these events. The home was featured in Popular Mechanics magazine in the 1950’s, and it was not created for sale or sponsorship. This was simply the case of an inventor creating something useful for himself.

Smart Homes Moving Forward

In recent years the Internet of Things have allowed smart technology to become an integral part of our daily lives. Everything from refrigerators, to appliances, to home security can be controlled with smart home technology.

In the future we can imagine that smart home technology will continue to progress and create even more ease and automation for humans. The next phase of digital technology will likely allow even more connectivity between devices. This could become as complex as digitized cutting boards, cars that arm a home security system, and more.

Regardless of where the future takes us, we may find hints within science fiction of current times. The same way scenes from the Jetson’s and literature from Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” seem to have predicted some of our advancements. Or maybe it was simply the aged old assertion that reality mimics science fiction. Whichever way you look at it, the future of home automation may already be written in our media.