I've read that some places would just have a drop cord hanging in the middle of the room and you'd screw in a couple of plug clusters (screw-in Y-taps) to connect your light bulb and appliances. This was most likely turn-of-the-century stuff.
The Y-taps and other such adapters are still made and sold.
It's one thing to plug a fan and a light bulb into such a contraption...but imagine trying to run an electric refrigerator or freezer, plus the kitchen radio and a flat-iron like that...
This...thing....also comes to mind. The old (illegal) basement apartment I once lived in for a few months as a kid had one of these fixtures/lampholders (whatever you want to call them) in the separate boiler room.
The three-pin receptacle on the side, feeding a zip-cord extension cord, came in handy at times whenever I needed an extra power point.
[This message has been edited by SvenNYC (edited 11-08-2003).]