Monday, January 16, 2012

16 January 1933 “Cleaning and Old Household Hints”

littleboywheelbarrow First, I wanted to start today with this darling little picture I found in a 32 magazine. I thought it went well with our talk last post about children-sized adult toys. The little washing machines and irons were adorable and practical. And, I might add, that one need not only hope a role of homemaking for their little child to want to instill these skills in them. Even the bachelor engineer has a need to keep his clothes clean, his floors swept, food on the table, and a balanced bank account. Such play, I think, should be encouraged in both sexes because they, the homemakers skills, are a basic skill for all mankind to get a handle on.

This photo shows little Donald with his own wheelbarrow. And while he is having fun and getting to get dirty, he is also learning about the importance of composting and keeping the soil for growing food. Another element to our living is food and surely now it is easily got at local stores. But, as I have been saying, one never knows with our current economy.

And learning to grow correctly is a skill we should all wish to acquire. Pesticides, chemicals and ill planned growing is certainly a bad road. Even the dustbowls of the Depression were largely due to the sudden cessation of old fashioned growing techniques. The hedgerow as windbreak and environment for animals that create waste to fertilize the grown and help carry seed was wiped out. The changing of garden sections to lie fallow and to plant up with winter wheat an the like was abandoned with the new modern means of plowing it all over and knocking down great expanses of land to plant larger same crops. This, when drought arrived and the wind was allowed free reign across the  plain, simply took up all the topsoil layers of rich nutrients plant need to grow. And, because of that, many people were homeless and starved.

We need to realize it is a serious business, understanding planting and the earth. If we think to always rely on the store or the large Monsanto breed genetically altered plants we may find ourselves in sore need of some good old fashioned planting and soil maintenance know how. But, I digress. I think it a quaint and wonderful little task for Donald to understand digging in the dirt isn’t just a fun pastime (though surely it is) but is a means to an end to feed oneself. Even if one were lavishly rich and had servants at hand, one should still possess the knowledge of how to care for oneself. The one certainty of the future is its Uncertainty. 

Now, to the home cleaning. I have reduced my already small cleaning arsenal from 1950’s. Though, there were many cleaners available, I felt my older homemaker self having lived through the WWII years would have held fast to my vinegar and water, Borax, baking soda and other simple solutions. I did get a push sponge mop that wrings out as I saw them readily advertised in the late 1950s. I often would return to the old reliable cotton mop, though ,as I could toss it in a bucket of bleach and then wash it with my whites.

Now, here in 1933, I am getting confusing and contrasting notions of what one did use to clean the floors of the house. I see vacuums available similar to my 1950s vacuum, so that has remained in my arsenal.bissel I have even added a lovely old wooden push Bissel  Sweeper carpet floor cleaner. This is not a picture of my exact one but it is very close. Lovely old varnished wood and it really does a treat of attacking the carpets and floors. I now find myself going for that before I drag out the vacuum. That is reserved for vacuuming day, while my bissel is for everyday. I rather sound like a commercial.

Look at these adds for the Bissel and you can see how much they were prized.bisselad bisselad2

Just for fun: HERE is a great site of a UK collector of early vacuums fun to look at his items.

scrubrushhandle Now, this ad here from 1930 shows the push scrub brush as an innovative notion. I don’t know if that is true or not. I would love to see how that wax spreader worked, wouldn’t you? So, I am assuming the norm was the old hands and knees approach to cleaning the kitchen floor, so here is what has replaced my mop and by sponge spic n span 1950’s push mop.bucketnbrushThough, I saw something similar to thisscrubbrushhandledat our local hardware store. Certainly meant for outdoor cleaning, I believe this might very well be the wonder advertised in my 1930 magazine. It is around $5 today and I think on my next shopping trip it might find its way into my basket.

As I keep doing the math for my own age today in 1933 to when I would have been a young housekeeper, I marvel at how differently I would have done things in the the mid 19teens! With that in mind, I was lucky enough to find this book free online. I am including the link so you can peruse it at your own leisure, but be assured, I shall most likely refer to it again in the future. As it is from 1913 I most likely would have had a copy in my library as my early Homemaker life started out. 

householdhintbook Household Helps, Hints and receipts

soap1913 Here are some tips in using soap. Right now, for my floor scrubbing, I am using fels-naptha in water as it seems an old-fashioned soap to make into floor cleaner. I slice a piece off, pour boiling water into the bucket and to it add a bit of Borax cleaning powder and mix it all up. This is essentially what I use to make my laundry soap and see no reason to not use it as a general scrubbing soap on floors and counters. I do wipe and rinse well with warm water afterwards.

soapmakingcare How to economically use the different soaps available are outlined here . I wonder if this would have been a norm for me in the 19teens. I do, however, strongly believe that I would have had, at the very least, a day girl or one young live in servant, probably a young girl. She may have been a great help on soap making days. I have to say, that I shall indeed try to make these soaps and will share my results with you. I found caustic soda for sale around $6 and put it HERE in the corner store if anyone else would like to try along when I make some soap. I will let you know, as I will need to keep more of my fats from cooking. I do so now, but want to have a separate jar for such fat for soaps as opposed to cooking. I also added a modern Bissell (which is metal) to the shop as well. They run around $20. HERE is the link to the Home Care Products in the corner store. I make very little (sometimes a penny or two sometimes nothing) but I have kept the store open as a resource for any of my followers if they would like to have a go at the ‘old time’ products still available.

Enjoying perusing the online book from 1913. I had planned on sharing the last recipe for Meat Pot Pie but I will be making that tonight for dinner, so shall share the results and photos of that next post. Happy Homemaking.


  1. I bought a Bissell carpet sweeper two months ago and ditched the vacuum altogether.

    I have large wool braided rugs 9x12 and 9x15's throughout my house...but was tired of the noise of the vacuum.

    It cost me 12.99 from the Bissell site and delivery was free! So I may not have an older version, but the concept is the same and the product works amazing!

    Have a lovely day!

  2. It is amusing to hear you talk of servant girls and cleaning help. Most of the people I knew during the depression used hot water and rags to wash floors and saved what little soap they has for clothes. Baths were had once a week and one tub full was used by all family members. Rugs were not vacuumed as it would have used electricity; instead they were hung on the cloth lines and beaten. Most folks still used oil lamps for light or had gas lights; electricity was not readily available in most parts of Massachusetts and was expensive to convert gas over and was expensive to run.It is interesting to see the vintage magazines you are using for reference, as most average folk could afford them or had little use for them except to keep the stove burning. It is great fun to see a modern gal like yourself try to imagine/pretend what it was like during one of the darkest points of American history.

  3. actually Anon, if you read what I wrote, I was talking of a servant girl when I would have been first married in the teens pre WWI when such help was easily and cheaply available before taxes and such made it not cost effective. In fact, what i am saying about my present 1933 life is that i am going to be saving animal fats from cooking (which I do already) and use it with caustic power to make my own soft soap to save money. That is hardly some extravagant life with servants. I am merely saying my life in my early 20's in the teens to now in the 30's would seem worlds apart. I am very much going to scrimp and save to be more accurate to a lower middle class woman. In fact, we are tying to save on our own heating costs and my kitchen is currently so cold that my breath is visible and my milk had ice cubes this morning. The icebox wasn't even running as it was trying to keep the frozen temps out. So, I am definitely going more towards that lifestyle. In fact, my magazines seem to show more lower middle to upper middle class solutions such as articles about the 'servant-less' house. But, my own grandmother, a homemaker in the Depression, did indeed have help. So, there is a gambit of areas to touch upon. And my live in 1913 would have been less conveniences but more likely to have help while my 33 life offers more conveniences at a price but with only myself to manage with our money buying less and the Depression setting in.
    I think, however, that I am going to have to contend myself with such comments this year of those who are simply 'skimming' my blog picking out various words and then continually saying, "Oh dear , how sweet you are gonna have pretty dresses and servants, oh arent u sweet that't not how it was" while I am sewing my own clothes making my own soap and scrubbing on my hands and knees with homemade soap and cold water. But what can one do?

  4. Don't let it get you down! I admire how all-out you go to fully live and embrace the year(s) you choose. Remember how "green" you felt about entering 1955, but you totally hit your stride by 1956?! This new year is a big adjustment and probably a downer of sorts to others who would prefer things not be so nitty-gritty and more pretty and fluffy like a new crinoline petticoat. I must confess that I have no desire to make my own soap and I've yet to track down a box of Borax, but I do enjoy reading through all the topics you've picked so far and your thoughts and musings on this time. I also appreciate that you are willing to track down actual ads, magazine articles, various video clips that show just what it was like in 1933. Makes me sad that my grandmothers have passed on so I can't hear what daily life was like for them. Chin up and keep at it. You are an inspiration and have something of substance to share! xx-carrie

  5. For what it's worth my grandparents, who were far from wealthy, had household help in the 1930's. They tightened their belt a bit more so there'd be two less unemployed people in the world. Luckily my grandfather owned a store and never had to close it despite the tough times.

    Thanks for sharing all you've found. You've gotten me thinking about a sweeper now. I just use a broom and handled dustpan but the sweeper would be easier for the kids to use.

    Sarah H

  6. My mother had a wood Bissell she used till at least the 70s. So did many of our relatives. I have one called a Hoky which is a modern smaller version from another company. Mine is probably 15 years old at least. Works great but of course has no suction action so only picks up things on the surface of a carpet or things off plain floors. We always got toy sets for holiday that were replicas of mother's cooking and cleaning equipment. These were our favorite presents. Even little glass baby bottle sets that had the metal pan lid that had a rack the bottles sat in so we could pretend we were sterilizing our baby dolls bottles ....just like mommy did. Naturally we had small aprons too. Homes as you have mentioned did not just contain articles and furnishings of that year but things gathered through many years. Only a few may be present day things. Our home growing up had things from probably 1900 to 60s. I am completely enjoying your focus on the 1930s. Sarah

  7. I really enjoy all your research and all the topics! Don't fret if some feel you're not representing the typical home of 1933; it would be as impossible to do that as it would be for someone in the future to replicate a typical U.S. home in 2012, because so much depends on geographical location and numerous other circumstances. In the U.S. today there is the unemployment rate nationally, but of course that's an average - some areas of the country have very high unemployment whereas it's much lower in others. So just as today's recession impacts different locations, so did the depression in the 30's.

    Also, as you even say yourself, much depended on individual family circumstances.

    For e.g., regarding the 1930's - my parents (who were children at the time) lived in the same town just a few blocks apart. While they shared many similarities in their childhood experiences - same era, same town - my mother's family struggled during the 30's, losing their home and barely getting by, whereas my dad's family (while by no means rich) did much better - not only having a nice comfortable home but also vehicles. For more comparison, my mom-in-law (who was also a young girl at the time) was the youngest of a very big family, living in the city. When asked about the depression years she says she actually doesn't recall too much about it in terms of things being hard; things probably were, but maybe she was sheltered from it being the youngest (and very loved/doted on!) member of a big family. For her, she doesn't recall many hardships. However, for my mother - the exact same age, living 40 miles away - the hardships of the 30's were very real and painful and left an impact on her even to this day.

    At any rate - my rambling point is that here are 3 people, all of the same age during the 30's, all living in the same geographical area, and yet all with very different experiences - although of course the overall experience was generally the same. AND - the things they remember - the clothing styles, the toys, the movies, games they played, how their mothers cleaned and sewed, the food - all those are the same.

    I really admire how you gather a lot of info and then incorporate everything in the best ways you can. It's very, very cool and I feel like you have a complete understanding of the different standards of living within each era, which is why you do so much research and try to gather a general feel of the era.

    Great blog topics - it's so fun to check in and see what's new!

  8. It's important to remember, too, that not everyone in the 30's was standing in breadlines or posing for Dorthea Lange photos. Yes, there were many people who were poor as church mice during this time, but there were also many who were not affected by the stock market crashes and unemployment at all and who lived their normal middle class lives (much like today's Great Recession). The Depression of the 30's affected everyone differently so to assume that everyone was dirt poor is unrealistic, and not an accurate reflection of history. Keep on with the great posts and don't let the Anon's get to you.

  9. My daddy was born in 1933, so I'm reading this with interest and I plan to talk to him and my mother about it. He was born in rural Texas in a house with a dirt floor and no electricity. Some mornings they'd wake up and their face-washing water would be frozen in the basin. His family was a farm family and the only "help" they had was a hired man who lived with them in the house. Daddy and his sister became the help as they grew up. His mother had a root cellar (no basements in Texas) that was stocked with preserved veggies up until she was too old get around anymore.


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