27 May 2007

Laundry Day!

It's a Wishy-Washy Subject

People have been washing clothes (or furs) for a long time. Most sites say that humans finally got a clue that good hygiene made for better health. I'm of the opinion that people liked to be comfortable then as now. Their skin chafed and got rashes just like ours does, so it stands to reason that they'd want to rid themselves of particulate matter just as we do. Take a look P&G's overview of laundry methods from prehistoric times until the present for good information on products used, and when.

But, lazy person that I am, I'm more interested in gadgets, so let's start a little later in the game...say, the 1800s.

The washboard appears to be invented in 1797 and none of the sources cite the inventor, so we'll let that one slide. Before that, in Lancaster, England, Mr. Rogerson received a patent for the machine he invented to 'wash, press out water and to press linen and wearing apparel.'

In the US, Hamilton Smith invented the rotary washing machine in 1858. Try as I might, I couldn't find a single picture of it or a facsimile. :sigh: The next great step forward in the history of laundry is the invention of the electric motor to drive the agitation, and in 1907, the Hurley Corporation came out with the "Thor." This washer had a wooden tub, and the motor was mounted underneath to drive the paddles. It had two drawbacks: 1) many pre-WW1 houses had no electricity, and 2) because of the unprotected motor, on occasion a laundress was electrocuted, which, shall we say, dampened their spirits some.

Before I forget, if you wanna know about the Japanese evolution of washers, try the Toshiba Museum.

The 1911 Maytag Model 42 had a swinging, reversable wringer--definitely a plus for the lady of the house! You can see many vintage washing machines on the Maytag Collectors Club page.

Several other improvements were made along the way, including the Maytag 1918 model which featured a revolving cylinder that forced water through tumbling clothes.

From the Museum of Communications: Western Electric distributed this washing machine in 1924. As an advertisement of the time said, "Here is a Clothes Washer that combines pleasing appearance with the stoutly-built mechanism needed to get clothes really clean." I dunno...we're still not quite to a machine that I'd trust with a nice blouse.

How about durability? The Maytag Model E was manufactured from 1939 until 1983. My mother had one of these, and it lasted for 30 years of heavy use. I doubt very seriously that the machines manufactured today will be able to make such a boast.

Several washing methods were developed, but only two stood the test of time: agitating (top loaders) and tumbling (front loaders ). Agitating landed the majority of the American market, but the Europeans preferred front loaders. Here's a 1950 front loader.

Whatever washing methods we choose, I'm just glad we have one. Happy writing, and enjoy your nice, freshly laundered clothes.


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Jacquie Rogers
2006 PEARL Award Winner, Best Short Story
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hurricanemercedes said...

Written very well or should I say; very cleanly written LOL

Morag McKendrick Pippin said...

Looks like my paternal Gran used a 1936 model. She used it til she died in 1980.

Very interesting reading!

Jacquie said...

That's what makes the 20th Century so fascinating--the huge speed of technological evolution. Sometimes I don't think our cultural values have kept up with the societal changes that all these inventions kick-started, whether in transportation, communication, daily living, or health care. Then again, it could be the other way around--maybe society was ready for something new.

Delia DeLeest said...

My mom used one of those old Maytag wringer/washers until the lat 1970's. I still remember the day my little sister was helping mom put clothes through the wringers and it pulled her arm through. Talk about an exciting wash day!

Jacquie said...


I got my hair caught in the wringer once, but my aunt rescued me right away so it only pulled out a few strands. I thought I was dying, though. Believe me, I stood back after that!

Christine Koehler said...

Very behind in my post-reading, but I have to agree with technology this time. I wouldn't have washed my clothes that often if I had to go through what they did – boiling water, sweat, big stick thing to grab the hot clothes, all that. I like to shove them into the washer, add detergent, and forget about them until I realize they now need to be dried. Of course I'm still waiting for the automatic ironing and folding contraption to come along.