Sunday, January 16, 2011

16 January 1957 “Q & A Sunday: The Laundry”

I thought we could talk about laundry on this Q & A Sunday. We have come a long way from the days of our great grandmothers.
1900swasingbasin This copper set in a stone or brick fire heated stove was once part of the Monday Wash day. Water was put in the copper and a fire set under it until the water was boiling hot. The clothes were put in and you used your own power to get the clothes clean. oldlaundryHere is a similar set up with a washing sink and a place for ‘spot cleaning’.
As oil and gasoline was once a new fangled item and not everyone had cars, the stuff was often used in odd ways. This information is from my book “Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s cook book” which was published in 1908. You can purchase a copy HERE if you are interested.
gasarticle1gasarticle2 This section in the Laundry tells you how to clean with Gasoline. It advises such cleaning to be performed out of doors. A good idea, when one considers the flammability of the stuff.wringer1 By the 1920’s and 30’s this would have been a normal scene. The wringer be a wonderful aid, but good old elbow grease is still a main feature. washingmachinewringer2 This lady may have the advantage of a powered washer, though it has to be hand filled and wrung out by hand.
There were also gas powered machines, which though noisy, must have increased productivity immensely.

This Maytag, most likely from the late 1930’s into the 1940’s, shows the move towards electricity. This machine must have seemed a wonder after Granny’s old Gas Powered machine, which worked on the same principal, but was louder and not quite as effective. None the less, it was better than hand churning in great boiling pots or fire heated wash basins. I love how you can adjust the amount of pressure on the wringer wheels for either a heavier piece or a more delicate like mother’s negligee or fathers embroidered pocket handkerchiefs.
Yet, even here in 1957, they are still making and selling the washer/separate ringer models, such as this one.
    I wonder if an older homemaker would just be used to this system from their childhood on, so the idea of getting a new machine that felt familiar was prevalent enough to have these type of washers continue to be produced here into the late 1950’s.
An interesting point, from water use, is that a  typical modern washing machine uses 40 gallons for wash and 40 for rinse. So, when the wringer was used, you saved 40 gallons by simply not needing it to rinse out the clothes.
Ritad Here in 1957 they have thought of every contingency to entice sales of new washers. This ad for RIT dye shows how it works even better in a special dye reservoir in this model of washing machine. fridgidairewasherad The decadent 1950’s in me makes me lust after a set like this. The color (which I am willing to bet probably also came in my favorite blue) is wonderful and the sleek yet appealing design makes me covetous. I love the little foot step on the bottom of the dryer to open the door. Why does this not exist on my dryer!
Yet, the part of me that has been growing over these past year’s in the 1950’s has been away from consumerism and materialism. And, in a way, I think there is a precedent here in the 1950s. Especially for a woman of my age. I would have been a War bride. I would have worried after hubby and others while away at war. I most likely would have had a war job and been a part of growing more, canning, doing without. This was a time when we had to rest on our laurels, “make do and mend” , Victory Garden, and just come together to make it all work out. This was pretty much tossed out the window in the increasing consumerism of the 1950s.
I honestly think there would be moments when I, such a War bride, would be in my clean packed Super market, driven in my own new second car, buying prepared foods and all the little plastic novelties that I would stop, remember and think, “Is this why we did it all?” “Is this the freedom we fought for, to buy cheap things made in Japan (that’s where they were made then and Taiwan) and buy and want?” “What of the freedom we made for ourselves when we used less, made more of our own, and had to work together to make do?” There had to be those moments then.
As I begin my adventure into the latter part of that Golden Age of the 1950’s, I am finding myself wondering more and more about my own current time. The more I learn to cook and can and sew and garden and make do with what we have, the more I look about at our mass consumption and almost feel sick. It almost feels like a blight or a mass hysteria of sorts. Perhaps it is just par for the course with my own growing disconnect from the modern world BECAUSE of my project. I mean I am disconnected from the world more, yet I continually find myself happier and better equipped to live the MORE I disconnect and the more I depend on myself.
Therefore, in some way, I do feel genuine in my late 50’s homemaker status that such feelings would surface. I wouldn’t wonder if it all would last, it was all to new to even consider then, but I would wonder if we were making a mistake. If all the effort to fight a war for freedom only to give up our personal freedom of creativity and ingenuity to simple want, greed, and avarice. This would continue to be apparent were I to have an older life child, as I would here in 1957. I would see that child growing up in the early 60’s with so many toys and so much plastic, soda, cereals, candy want want need. This would be compared to my own 1920’s and Depression childhood. The contrasts would be great.
I understand now why those older housewives of the time would wring out their paper towels and let them dry in the sink. They couldn’t do it, they couldn’t use it once and toss it away. They HAD to use it until it was unusable. IT was unthinkable of them to waste. I am beginning to be that person more and more.
I find it so interesting to me that someone of my generation who chose to travel to the time when all the consumerism and desire really began somehow now finds herself wanting, nay desiring more and more to do more myself with less. It is an odd combination, perhaps the two negatives have cancelled one another out and made the positive. And in many ways, I feel it IS a positive, how I have become. Who knows, if there ever is a lessening of oil and we HAVE to return to an older way of life, I will already be half way there. I live most of my days without setting foot in a car. I make most things from scratch and sew my own clothes. I suppose I could just as easily learn to use an old treadle sewing machine with no electricity since I learned to use the electric 1950’s model I now use.
Maybe one day I will find myself using this type of washing machine.offgridwasher Though, I would probably have purchased an unloved old machine with a ringer like this anyway, but the same principal.oldwashingmachine oldwashingmachine
No matter where our future takes us, we certainly can see how quickly washing changed in a matter of generations for the homemaker of the 20th century.
Happy Laundry Day and Happy Homemaking.


  1. I left home for college in 1972. My mother had just recently bought a brand-new wringer washer. She didn't choose an automatic because she said the wringer washer cleaned better. And she did save money on soap. She would separate all her loads and then start with the lighter loads and, using the same water, end with the heavier, darker loads (like jeans). But, one would still have to rinse. The wringer did not remove the soap. After wringing from the wash water, she would put the clothes in a big tub of cold water. Swish them around and wring them a second time. I was always fascinated with wash day.

  2. Well my first comment went I am back! I love your blog. I am on a path to simplicity because my husband had an auto accident. Here is one way we wash clothes on the farm....

    I cannot believe how far I have come. I challenge myself to eat things with less than five ingredients(that I have myself put in) and reduce preservatives. In fact I can actually taste the difference and sometimes I gag.

    Because of my path updating my blog, has come to a stand still, as I am on a project for the summer garden and all else.

    Thanks so much for your blog, it has been so refreshing.


  3. I wish I could find an old wringer washer. My washer from the 2000s is a pain in the rear! Constantly has issues. I end up having to put sopping wet clothes in my dryer. I have to believe it would be more efficient and less costly with a wringer.

    I agree with your comment about becoming more like the homemaker of the past. I find myself reusing and conserving more than I used to and doing things I never would have thought of like washing mirrors with newspaper instead of paper towels. Works better and leaves no fuzz.

  4. I remember everything, but especially from the wringer washer like it was yesterday when I was a student I did my laundry, and two white blouse that I had to buy myself have remained caught in the wringer and came out every tear and full of fat black and my mother when she was doing the washing, was putting himself in the sacred cause of clothes caught in the wringer, after the engine caught fire, and my father replaced it and start over. And you had the clothes you déjas caught in the wringer?; VIEW AN EXAMPLE BELOW

  5. This post was very interesting. It reminded me of a story my grandma told me as I have been asking her a ton of questions working on my family history. She explained to me how they used to do laundry in a large container with a stick (likely as in your first photo) and how to get the sheets and things really white they would spread them out outside and dampen them repeadedly in the sun.

    Another handy tip to conserve, if you have a wood stove use a damp cloth dipped in the ashes to clean the glass door on it!

  6. Well, ladies, eat your hearts out--I OWN an old wringer washer, and I love it. It was a gift from a friend who had found it at a flea market. My husband redid the electric cord, and I replaced the hose. It turns on automatically when plugged in, so I use a power strip with an on/off switch. That way I don't have to handle a plug with wet hands. I am still working on the wringer, which works occasionally. I figure that since the machine does all the agitation, I don't mins wringing by hand--it builds upper body strength. It still beats my oild 'washing machine'--one 5 gallon bucket to wash in, and one 5 gallon bucket to rinse in! I really like the blog.

  7. I can't go so far as to wish for a wringer washer BUT I have started to make my own laundry soap - not only is it better for the environment, it turns out it's better for our clothes as it rinses out clean and the clothes look better and smell fresh - I can see them lasting longer. It's super easy:2 cups finely grated soap, 1 cup washing soda,
    1 cup borax.

  8. Thanks Helen, actually I think I can speak for many of us, we all do that already. I know I do and we have some wonderful various recipes for powdered or dry. We should share more here.

  9. How interesting! I recently had to replace my washer (due to the repair cost being higher than a new one-my washer was 4 years old! But this is another subject.) and the owner of the local appliance dealer (versus the extra large family owned dealer I shopped at previously) and I were talking about appliance durability. The Maytag wringer washer was made until the early 1980's because it was so strong and reliable. My 2002 Maytag only lasted 4.5 years! Crazy. I bought a Speed Queen on the recommendation of the owner. It's an old company and it's manufactured in neighboring Wisconsin.

    When researching a new washer I found that many people are fed up with
    "things not being made like they used to" and repairs not being a reasonable solution. I found this comforting.


  10. I was just down in my kitchen making a pot of tea and admiring my 1960's gas stove which I often have to lite with a match. I love it! It works! I don't want, need or care to have a newer least right now. I get all that you are saying..I even have a treadle! We recently moved into a post-wartime home built in 1946. The man who owned it lived a simple life and the house was filled with his things (which we purchased) Here is what we found in the laundry department.

  11. Sassy, your home must be amazing! I love the laundry basket too. Do you use the old washer? You said you couldn't fine much info on line about it so I'm wondering if it works.

    What's interesting about all this laundry talk is that even though these machines made the job a lot easier now that we buy more clothes and wear them once before washing we're still spending a lot of time doing the laundry. Kind of like how computers and cell phones were supposed to give us more free time but instead allow us to work all the time. (Donna, I think you touched on this before but I thought it appropriate to bring up again. Really makes you think.)


  12. At our old house (built in 1945), the owner left behind a 1950`s stove in the kitchen which still worked I used it for awhile (wished I had kept it now :) ), as well as an old wringer washer in the basement, it was cool to see but I have no idea if it still worked or not. Now I wish we would have plugged the thing in......
    Mom in Canada

  13. My Grandma had one of those in her farmhouse basement... sigh. I wish it had been kept! I think I'm going to have to keep my eyes open next time we move!

  14. Im a little late to comment on this, but, when yet another washer of mine broke not so long ago...I told my husband , "I'm buying a wringer washer." He of course thought I was crazy but loves me dearly an purchased one for me. I love the 40s and 50s, and any way I can try to live them out in my own life, I do. I now own a 1962 Maytag (purchased for 20 dollars!) and a 1951 Speed Queen (purchased for 25 dollars.) Both machines were made right here in the USA and run like no ones business. I can attest that my clothes are definitely cleaner and they are not so hard to use. I am also the mother of 9, so laundry is overwhelming at my house at times. But, I havent found it really to be anymore time consuming than a regular washer, and I can get a little fresh air while Im wahing clothes. Im always baffled that we have all these modern time saving appliances, yet we do not seem to be any less busy. I love my retro inspired life, and my washing machine that was made while my grandmother was in elementary school! I love your blog, love the knowledge you share. I hope someday I will be able to dive into the deep end of the pool along side you!


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