By Lee Maxwell
In Grandmother's estimation, if there was a perfume called "scent of satisfaction, "its fragrance would be that of a huge pile of just-finished laundry. Indeed it was satisfying to have the chore of Mondays done, and to be able to sit down, have a cup of tea and just relax for a bit. During her tenured term of doing laundry, from about 1890 to 1950, Grandma had spanned the (Washing Machine) age, during which a great majority of the innovation in laundry devices was made. Before the late 1800's there were relatively few factory-made laundry devices which had multiple moving parts. Since 1950, few notable changes have occurred in the way washing is done.
With modern plumbing we no longer have to heat the water on the old cook stove, pour it in the washer and rinse tubs, then after the wash, haul it outside. In rural areas, before REA electrical distribution services became available, the farmer would usually have to stay around the house for awhile on Monday morning to get the old kick-start, 2-cycle gasoline washing machine engine running. Many of this older, and experienced generation can produce evidence, in the form of scars, which attest to past dangers of using a wringer washing machine.
Technology has taken us a fair way from the rock, used to pound the clothes
at the river bank, to the modern rectangular shaped white box with appropriate
buttons for permanent press and delicate fabrics. What would grandma have
thought if she were given the choice of "delicate" or "permanent
press"? Certainly the pair of bib-overalls that had been on granddad for
the past week, or two, would not have fit within either category. The marvelous
way of how we got from the rock to the big white box has gone almost unnoticed.
There is little literature on the subject, nor is there any comprehensive
museum display of the evolution of the washing machine. Except for Maytag,
there has been minimal corporate interest in maintaining historical archives.
Washing machines do not have the allure of other old mechanical relics such as cars, tractors, internal combustion engines or gasoline pumps, where, for each, there are literally hundreds of proud and enthusiastic collectors. With rare exception, antique dealers avoid washing machines like the plague. At least one contemporary antique columnist has claimed washing machines to be little more than "junque". Could it be that the washing machine is "antiquities'' ugly duckling"?
The reader will, I hope, agree that the "almost-antiseptic"
washing machines of today don't have nearly the charm nor the character, albeit
hazardous character, of those our grandmothers used. Our presentation herein is
focused on the elegant washing machines which were powered either with gasoline
engines or electric motors and were in use from 1900-1935. In 1920 there were
over 1300 companies producing washers, and it is feasible here to show only a
sampling of the myriad designs and shapes produced. Selected for illustration,
are about 5% of the machines in my "hobby museum" located in
Prior to 1900 most washing machines were "people powered" . There were, however, some attempts to ease "women's work" with the use of water, steam or animal power to drive the washing machine. With the advent of the internal combustion engine and especially the electric motor along with electric distribution systems, powered washing machines began to proliferate.
early electric powered machines to be mass produced was the Thor washer of Fig.
1. Features of this machine, made by the Hurley Machine Company of
rudimentary gearing, the machine (maker unknown), of Fig 2., was among
the first produced to have forward and reverse action for the powered wringer.
A safety feature is provided by the lever on the lid of the tub as it
disengages the clutch, thereby stopping the agitator when the lid is opened.
Before I found it, this machine had been sitting outside behind Tom Coffee's
hardware store in
Electric, Fig. 3, is somewhat unusual, as its dolly, (or "milk
stool" or "udder") type agitator is powered via a shaft through
the bottom of the tub. Most machines of this early 1900's vintage have the
agitator powered from above, through the lid of the tub. This machine had been
used by one of the mining families of
November 12, 1909 is the last patent date shown on the Judd rocker washing machine of Fig 4. Rocker-type machines became popular in the early 1920's and over twenty companies produced them. The Judd washer with no wringer safety release, a number of unshielded gears and pulleys along with a top-mounted electric motor with non-insulated terminals, and no hint of electrical grounding, would have, at least today, surely made some consumer safety group sit up and take notice.
The Meadows belt driven
machine of Fig. 5, produced in
The "electric motor washer", Fig. 6, was in the early line of powered models manufactured by the Nineteen Hundred Corporation, This 1900 company finally evolved into the present Whirlpool Corporation. This machine features a fixed agitator and an oscillating wooden tub. A single lever on the wringer post serves as the sole control for this machine. In one position the tub oscillates while in the other, the wringer turns. This is a rare example whereby the wringer, on a powered machine, is allowed to rotate only in a single direction. Imprinted on the side of the wringer is the phrase . What a wonderfully gallant thought!
The double tub Women's Friend machine, shown in Fig. 7, could be either electric or gasoline powered. Double tub machines, such as this, were made to decrease the time required to do the laundry. They were especially popular in those families having more than several children. The drive mechanisms for the agitators are reminiscent of the pitman rods used in hay mowers. Grease cups on the tub lids provided lubrication for the agitator shafts. Can you imagine keeping the white shirts white as bits of grease find there way into the wash tub?
The Prima wooden tub rocker, Fig. 8, produced in
The Troy machine, Fig. 9,
was manufactured in
The Horton Company, of
The Daylight Company of
Perhaps the most remarkable machine, for its time, was the Laun-Dry-Ette, Fig
12, made by the Home Specialty Company of
The Locomotive washer,(
The Geyser of Fig. 14 has a very unique
system of agitation. The shaft of the motor, mounted directly beneath the tub,
extends into the tub and is connected to a steel propeller. Clothes are put
into a free-wheeling basket and are tumbled or otherwise jostled by the
turbulence created by the propeller turning at 1750 RPM! Although, in the
1920's, there were a large number of companies producing an even larger number
of different machines, only one firm, the Lovell Manufacturing Company, of
The present day Speed Queen company evolved from the Barlow and Seelig
An agitator, which resembles inverted bread pans, is rocked back and forth by the connecting levers on the Rightway Suction washer of Fig. 16.
Produced by the American Gas Machine Company of
Manufacturing Company of
The Hart-Paar tractor company of Charles City, Iowa made the unique washer of Fig. 18. To my knowledge, this was the only model produced by the company and indeed it has some unusual features. Two inverted cups, attached to the lid, alternately go up and down to effect the agitation or washing action. While washing, the entire tub is rotated by the 1/4 hp electric motor turning a large gear attached to the under side of the tub. A gas burner under the tub allows the water to be heated before, and during, the time washing is being done.
Most common of the pre 1935 washing machines is the gray square tub Maytag and there are several Maytag models which look very similar to the one of Fig. 19. That is except for the butter churn and meat grinder optional attachments shown in the photograph. Ordinarily the wringer would be in place of the meat grinder and the agitator in place of the butter churn. Using the same drive and clutch mechanism as for the wringer resulted in a very powerful grinder which has forward and reverse capability.
Of all the washing machine manufacturers doing business in 1920, only two
are yet producing washing machines using the original company name, Maytag and
Dexter. Currently the Dexter company, of
The wooden tub Dexter shown in Fig. 20, has an on-board Briggs and Stratton gasoline engine.
Like many machines of this era it came equipped with an attached folding shelf on which the rinse tubs were put. Rot resistant woods like white cedar and cypress were used to make many of the wooden tubs for machines like the Dexter. When these woods become dry they shrink causing the tubs to leak. For that reason the makers would put instructions to the effect that the tubs should be soaked long and well before use....
only venture into the washing machine market made by the Delco-Light Company of
companies produced small, apartment sized washers most of which would not
accommodate anything like a pair of overalls. Three of these "
Dainties" washers are the Boyer-Schultz, the
The Thor of Fig. 23a. has perhaps the most artistic of agitators, Fig. 23b. Along with the hands, somewhat reminiscent of Australian Aboriginal art work, is imprinted the phrase "hand gentleness-machine speed". In operation the agitator wobbles around in one direction for about 10 seconds, then automatically stops and then wobbles back in the opposite direction. A gentleman ,who was a Thor salesman in the 1930's, told me that it was popular to paint the finger nails red while the machine was on the dealer's showroom floor.
Perhaps the strangest of all is another Thor machine shown in Fig. 24. Beneath this ordinary looking porcelain washing machine is mounted a 4-cylinder air compressor driven by the same electric motor that powers the agitator. Instead of using a wringer, the large gadget resembling a giant clam extracts water from the clothes. The wet clothes are put in the bottom half of the shell and then the lid is shut and sealed like that of a pressure cooker. As air from the compressor is pumped into the top of the clam shell, a large diaphragm literally presses the water out of the clothes and lets it run down into the tub below. The gentleman, from whom I purchased this wondrous thing, said that it was used also to extract juice from grapes for making wine.
All of the machines pictured, with the exceptions of the "clam shell" Thor and the Maytag with the meat grinder, have been revived. I use the word revive, in lieu of restore, as these machines are not put back to their exact original condition. Each washer was completely dismantled, cleaned, sand blasted, repainted and reassembled. The condition of many machines, as they are found, is, as the antique columnist put it, "little more than junque". Many machines are either completely rusted, covered with decades of hardened grease or have fallen apart to be in several pieces. Of my 608 machines, I have only about a dozen which were found in "museum quality" condition. When painting, original colors were often used on metal parts whenever identification was possible. I do not usually, however, repaint wooden tubs, but instead, refinish them with oil. All but 4 of my 460 revived machines are in working condition. The four are awaiting parts which were either missing or broken beyond repair. It is unfortunate we do not yet have video capability within this magazine,[coming soon!, Dave] so you could more appreciate the inventiveness put into these truly magnificent and dynamic works of art and technology.
Among the larger manufacturers producing powered washing machines prior to 1935 and which have not been mentioned above are: Altrorfer Bros. Co. (ABC), Apex, Automatic, Barton, Birtman, Blackstone, Bluffton, Boss, Brammer, Clarinda, Coffield, Conlon, Crystal, Easy (Syracuse Washing Machine Corp.), Eden, Fairbanks-Morse, Federal, Frantz, Gainaday, Graybar, Grinnell, Haag, Maxwells, Meadows, One Minute, Puffard-Hubbard, Savage, Voss, Westinghouse, White Lily, Woodrow and Zenith (Hirschy).Most of the washer companies were located in the midwest with Iowa, Illinois and Indiana hosting a majority of the firms.
Some of these early washers would seem to have worked better than others. Indeed some seem to have provided more frustration, or perhaps entertainment, than good laundry service. Our government would not allow us to use a single one of these now, lest we lose too many essential parts of our bodies. On the other hand this magnificent parade may remind us how truly ingenious our forebears were.
My appreciation to Ron Lutz for taking some of the photographs herein... L. Maxwell
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