North Carolina History Digital Textbook Project

A technological tour of the Biltmore Estate

By Sue Clark McKendree

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

A technological tour of the Biltmore Estate

By Sue Clark McKendree

Provided by Biltmore Company

The Technologies Tour provides guests with an understanding of the importance of the state-of-the-art technologies that were incorporated into Biltmore House at the turn of the century. Despite its French Renaissance appearance, Biltmore was a new nineteenth-century home that showcased advanced technological features unheard of in most average American homes at the time. These included electricity, indoor plumbing, central heat, mechanical refrigeration, freight and passenger elevators, dumb-waiters, in-House telephones, and a complex servants’ call system. These amenities not only enhanced the comfort of the Vanderbilts and their guests, but lightened the work load of the Biltmore House domestic staff and made their lives more comfortable as well.

Scholars point to the 1920s as the turning point when labor-saving devices came into use in the American middle-class home. That point arrived here 25 years earlier. In addition, the South lagged behind the rest of the county in its acceptance of labor-saving devices, placing Biltmore House even further into the vanguard. This tour will focus exclusively on Biltmore’s advanced technologies and on the evolution of those technologies as innovations appeared.

At the end of the Technologies Tour, visitors will understand:

  1. the inspirations for and origins of the technological features used in Biltmore House,
  2. what these technologies were,
  3. their impact on the day-to-day functioning of Biltmore House, and
  4. how they enhanced not only the comfort of the Vanderbilts and their guests, but the work and living conditions of the Biltmore House domestic staff as well.