Archive for Thursday, July 21, 2005

Wash-day blues

July 21, 2005

Washing clothes has always been a major operation. In the early days, laundry day was one of the hardest problems for women regardless of how rich or poor they were, especially before running water, gas or electricity. They had to lug heavy tubs and baskets full of wet laundry to the backyard clotheslines only to go back outside a few hours later to gather it in.

My mother washed clothes by heating the water on the wood and coal stove and using a scrub board. In the late 1920s, my parents bought their first electric washing machine made by the Thor Company. The control on it could either make the agitator run or make the wringer work to wring out the clothes. The water had to be hand-carried to the washer; clothes were washed, then run through the wringer into the rinse tub and run through the wringer a second time into a basket to be carried out to the clothesline. The wringer could be rotated for its different functions. Then, the water was carried to the back door where it was thrown outside unless you were lucky enough to have a built-in drain.

Our kitchen stove had a hot water reservoir on the side that my mother also used on laundry day. She used that washer for a good 20 years. In the late 1930s, my dad, who was very inventive, made a homemade hot water system that ran the water through the furnace.

When we moved into our house in 1951, we bought a Kenmore automatic washer that had a "suds-saver cycle." The water was pumped into an adjoining tub that we had built into a cabinet, and the wash water could be used again for another load or two. The purpose was to save on soap and water, but it was not all that practical.

The scrub board was invented in 1797; the first hand-powered washing machine with a drum was invented by James King in 1851. The first clothes wringer added to the washing machine came in 1861. In 1874, William Blackstone of Indiana built a birthday present for his wife. It was a machine that removed dirt from clothes. Alva J. Fisher invented the first electric washing machine in 1908.

Thank goodness many improvements have been made over the years.

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