Saving Women's Lives!

By Lee Maxwell

Description: 046In 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. The Jasper County museum, Newton, Iowa houses an excellent collection of Maytag washing machines along with some 20 other washers produced by local manufacturers.

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 Eaton, Colorado. Indeed, there is a lot more to see.

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.

Description: Thor drum-type washing machine, ca. 1908Among the 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 Chicago, (ca. 1908), include a wooden drum into which the clothes are put to be tumble washed. The drum turns 8 revolutions in one direction, then reverses. A control on the lower left side of the machine engages the clutch to start the rotation. A lever, on the top right side, provides forward and reverse control for the chain driven wringer. At the time when this machine was manufactured, safety releases for wringers were not yet perfected. And, since most electric machines did not have on-off switches, if a finger or some other part of the anatomy were caught in the wringer one would have to grab the electric cord and yank it out of the outlet. Some cords had a terminal which could be screwed into a light socket, and even with vigorous yanking you could not have easily stopped the wringer from swallowing your entire arm. One day, I was explaining to a group how dangerous the machines could be. A lady leaned over and shyly demonstrated the 2-inch diameter scar on the top of her head. As a young girl, she had been helping her mother do the laundry when the wringer caught one of her long braids and proceeded to scalp her!

Description: Early electric washer, maker unknownFeaturing very 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 Vienna, Missouri for some 50 years. Besides being half buried, it had a tree, 8" in diameter, growing up through its angle iron frame. I yet believe Tom had been waiting all those years for some one like me to come along and saw down that old unwanted tree.


Description: Red Electric washer with galvanized tubThe Red 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 Leadville, Colorado.

Description: Judd Rocker-Type washer, ca. 1915November 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.

Description: Meadows belt-driven washerThe Meadows belt driven machine of Fig. 5, produced in Pontiac Illinois, has been painted its original color with the exception of the wooden tub, which had also been bright yellow. A stationary gasoline ("hit and miss") engine would have been used to power this machine. The washing machine along with the engine belted to it would have been operated outdoors or in a separate wash house. Although, some back porches were equipped with line shafts having a number of different pulley sizes, like blacksmith shops, whereby appliances like cream separators, butter churns as well as washing machines could be belt driven by an engine located outside the house. A pair of foot pedals at each end of the Meadows machine serve as forward and reverse controls for the wringer. The wringer is mounted on a frame which slides along a track allowing the wringer to be positioned either at the wash tub or at the rinse tub.

Description: 1900 Company electric motor washerThe "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 "SAVES WOMEN'S LIVES". What a wonderfully gallant thought!

Description: Womans Friend double-tub washerThe 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 Duluth, Minnesota has "Nevercrush" boldly embossed on its cast aluminum framed wringer. A decal, on the side of the wringer, pictures fingers which are "never crushed." A freely swinging lever, when pushed, allows the wringer rollers to separate just far enough to pull the fingers out should they be caught. If , however, you weren't quick enough your whole arm would feed into the wringer and your elbow would surely be mangled, since no further range of release was provided.

Description: Troy tumble washerThe Troy machine, Fig. 9, was manufactured in Troy, New York. The wooden tub of this machine rotates and the clothes are tumbled as they wash. The single control positions the belt, connected to the driving source of power, either to be on the drive (inner) pulley or on the idler (outer) pulley. With about 250 pounds of gears and pulleys as large as those for a tractor, the Troy company made a machine which would certainly withstand much abuse. Can you imagine children playing around this machine while it's operating?

Description: Horton Electric WasherThe Horton Company, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, produced the electric machine of Fig. 10. This machine features a powered wringer which could be swung around its post to allow positioning over external rinse tubs. The wringer also has a safety release. Being one of the Horton company's first electric models there seemed to be less than total confidence in electric power. Note the lever by which the machine can also be hand operated. An advertising pamphlet attests to the importance of this machine. "A Horton Washer will add many years to your life. It will save your health-- keep the wrinkles out of your face--keep you youthful".

Description: Daylight vacuum washerThe Daylight Company of Minneapolis produced the majestic looking machine of Fig. 11. The agitator consists of a single large cone nearly the diameter of the tub. By means of a thoroughly complicated arrangement of gears, chains, pulleys and belts, the arms on either side of the tub are made to pulsate up and down pushing and pulling the agitator and causing huge tidal waves inside the tub. This machine would stand a good chance of winning first place in a Rube Goldberg contest. At first use of this machine, the ladies surely must have had wide and amazed eyes.

Perhaps the most remarkable machine, for its time, was the Laun-Dry-Ette, Fig 12, made by the Home Specialty Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Description: Laun-Dry-Ette spin dry washerNote the absence of a wringer. During the wash mode, by means of a simple mechanism, twin cups, comprising the agitator, are pulled up and down and in addition, given a twisting motion. When the wash is done the operator disengages the clutch (made of steel and leather) and then pushes down on the foot pedal, thereby raising the basket, containing the clothes, out of the water. By again engaging the clutch the basket is caused to spin and the water is extracted from the clothes, reminiscent of the automatic machines today. One of the models of this machine, in my collection, has as its last patent date, December 26, 1905. Somewhat surprising, since spin dry automatic machines were not in common usage until after World War II.

Description: Locomotive washerThe Locomotive washer,(Brantford Washing Machine Company, Brantford, Canada) Fig. 13, realizes agitation by the sloshing action inside the tub as it is pushed back and forth. The copper tub has three wheels on its bottom and acts as a trolley rolling on the triple track system below it. Mounted below the tub is a natural gas burner allowing the water to be heated in the tub. No pilot light or automatic shut-off system was provided. Consequently if the flame were to be blown out, sparks from the brushes on the electric motor might well explode you and your happy home!

Description: Geyser 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 Erie, Pennsylvania made most of the wringers for these machines. Sometimes the Lovell wringer is identified by the name, Anchor Brand, along with the picture of an anchor. Apparently the Lovell's safety release, patented May 15, 1915, proved to be a best seller. The Geyser machine has on it a Lovell wringer common to a number of other machines pictured herein. The American Wringer Company of New York, sometimes under the name of Horse Shoe Brand, also produced wringers for a number of different washing machine manufacturers.

The present day Speed Queen company evolved from the Barlow and Seelig Company, Ripon Wisconsin, producers of the Big 3 washing machine of Fig. 15. Inverted cones were used as agitators in each of the tubs. A rinse tub would ordinarily be located on a stand behind each of twin wash tubs. The swinging wringer could then be positioned to direct clothes into any of the tubs. Although the washer was originally equipped with shields for the mechanisms on top of the lids, they were probably soon removed by the owner so that lubrication was more convenient. Also it became more convenient for fingers to be smashed. Description: Big-3 double tub washer

An agitator, which resembles inverted bread pans, is rocked back and forth by the connecting levers on the Rightway Suction washer of Fig. 16. Description: C:\webroot\OLDEWASH\oldewash.com\photos\256.JPG

Produced by the American Gas Machine Company of Albert Lea, Minnesota, this machine has a rectangular shaped copper tub completely encased in a splendid wooden box. The black lettering on the left side of the decal indicates water levels for desired load sizes.

Description: Almetal washing machine and cannerThe Almetal Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, Missouri advertised the machine of Fig. 17, for use as a fruit and vegetable canner as well as for a washing machine. At the bottom of the copper tub is a natural gas burner which allows the water to be brought to a boil right in the tub. The machine features an "elevator" arrangement whereby the clothes are lifted out of the water as the lid is opened. While used in the canning mode the inverted cone agitator is removed and up to 32 quart jars may be put into the tub for cold-pack processing. Advertising literature indicated, "if men had to do the washing, every house would have an Almetal". It is believed that this is the only model produced by this firm.

Description: Hart-Paar washerThe 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 Fairfield, Iowa, produces washing machines used primarily by Laundromats.

Description: Dexter with gasoline engineThe 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....

Description: Delco-Light machine with two electric motorsThe only venture into the washing machine market made by the Delco-Light Company of Dayton, Ohio is illustrated by the machine of Fig. 21. Two models of this machine were produced, one for 32 volt DC power and the other for 110 volts. Even for a rocker the Delco is unusual because it has one motor to power the rocking tub and another to power the wringer. Rather than using mechanical means to achieve the oscillatory motion of the tub, it is done electrically. The universal type motor has 3 brushes and two of these are alternately lifted off the commutator by a rod connected to a cam on the axle of the tub. Being offset from one another, the alternate lifting of brushes causes the motor to reverse. Because of this continued reversing of the motor, it is imagined that much electric sparking resulted and brushes as well as commutators surely had to be repaired often. I once corresponded with the Delco-Light Company but no one there seems to remember the firm ever making such a machine.

Description: C:\webroot\OLDEWASH\oldewash.com\photos\fig22.JPGSeveral 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 Hamilton Beach and the Little Giant, shown left to right in Fig. 22. The Boyer-Schultz machine is comprised of a cast aluminum pot mounted on a motorized base. The action of this machine resembles a hula dancer as the pot oscillates and goes up and down. Still in business but not producing washing machines is the Hamilton Beach Company that produced the portable machine which uses a quite ordinary copper boiler as the tub. Bolted to the top of the lid is a small electric motor and gear housing. Inside the tub are two inverted cones that are alternately driven up and down. Although I have not seen them, Hamilton Beach must have made other small appliances to be used along with the motor, since it can be easily removed from the washer and it has its own footed stand. The Little Giant Washing Machine Company of Chicago produced the small machine having the tilted tub. The action of this machine is captivating, as it resembles an amusement park tilt-a-whirl. Made to wash only "dainty" things it looks and sounds as if it would do a magnificent job of washing.

Description: Thor wringer washer ca. 1930Description: Thor agitatorThe 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.

Description: Thor with 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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