In 2018 dollars, that's around $3000. You can get a low-end fridge today for under $400. When a product's price hasn't changed over 50 years, that's achieved by technology, and by cutting materials costs.
That, and it’s made with more plastic. Compare the weight of an old fridge to a new one and you can see where the savings came from.
On the other hand, it could be perception. My parents had to fix appliances too. (I grew up in a fix-it family). And we have more appliances now. For instance home computers didn't exist when I was a kid.
And there is a balancing force. While stuff breaks, the ability to find repair instructions online has been a godsend. I swear that whenever I experience a problem with technology, someone else has already had the same problem, fixed it, and blogged or YouTube'd about it.
True, TVs would break down regularly and other appliances had basic design flaws which required constant attention. It was uncommon to see stuff like washing machines and fridges being disposed of though.
I’ve been able to fix a washing machine (why is the filter cleanout behind an access panel with 3 difficult to remove screws?), a flat panel TV (flex cable came loose), a gas water heater (just had to sand the thermocouple), another water heater in a hard water area (thank you SharkBites!) and a garage door opener (you should open them up and re-grease them every 10 years).
They build their home washers to the same quality as the commercial ones, and they're american made.
These things are stupid easy to maintain. But I'm afraid of the coming shortage of replacement parts. (How long can Sears go on?)
Bonus: No mold problems with traditional top loaders. And I can throw a last-minute item into the mix if I forgot it.
I just had to buy a new fridge a few months back and this is another thing that makes me angry. Why is it that the standard sizes always seem to change as well? My house was made in the 1980s and most kitchen appliances we've replaced had to be 'custom orders' because the standard sizes have changed. Do they expect us to also upgrade our cabinets every time these appliances break and they decide to add an inch to the height or width.
While we're here. How about appliances that don't combine every simple part into modules that make many simple repairs uneconomic?
And they can't just produce toilets/showerheads/etc. that just use more water. Regulations won't allow it.
I can confirm that modern Toto toilets are also a wonder of engineering. My wife and I are planning on replacing all the old toilets in the house, now that we have a Toto downstairs. Not only does it use much less water, it can also handle way more ... material ... than anything else I have ever seen. Worth the money at ten times the price.
And yes, you can get Toto toilets that also do the dual-flush.
The toilets can be adjusted, but the new tech works pretty well.
Similar situation for dishwashers. New dishwashers (I have some Bosch 300 series machines) are worlds better than pre-water-saving dishwashers. I can pack mine with almost every piece of Corelle I own, with no prewashing, and get spotless clean dishes. With their turbidity meters, they actually work better if you don't prewash. A caveat though: you have to learn how to use the machine properly. For example, the Bosch machines offer a "normal" mode, which is both the worst and the default mode. Avoid it and the machine runs circles over any dishwasher from your golden youth.
I've had mixed experiences with washing machines. I have several very nice front-loading washing machines from LG, GE, and Samsung, all working flawlessly for between 6 and 10 years. Again, you have to RTFM, and perform basic maintenance like cleaning the filters. However, we used cloth diapers on our children, and found that our fancy front-loaders absolutely suck for such heavy soils. We actually bought an old-fashioned water-guzzling top load washing machine just for diapers, and it did the trick. On the other hand, we also have a new Maytag impeller-driven top loader, and it's shit. The computer pretty much constantly gets the water level wrong, and either leaves some clothes dry, or uses so much water that clothes don't circulate. I'm considering getting another old-fashioned top-loader for that property. Oldies are goodies in this case.
I like old-fashioned dryers, no doubt -- simple, robust, and thankfully still made essentially the same as they have been for decades. The newer computerized dryers are of dubious value IMO.
And don't get me started about the absolute shit durability of electronic control boards in appliances. Boards that can cost hundreds of dollars to replace. This summer I replaced a control board in a high-end Dacor stove. I had to find a used one because factory replacements cost $300. Plus, Dacor tightly restricts schematics and documentation to "authorized" (and expensive) repair shops.
In my opinion, Right to Repair laws are the best remedy for the declining quality of appliances.