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The $64 Washer: 1941

The $64 Washer: 1941

        Its big 8-sheet porcelain tub is insulated to keep water warm! Streamlined 8-position wringer with soft balloon rolls has chromium pressure controls; push-pull safety release; roll-stop safety dry feed rest and automatic water-return board.

October 1941. "Washer for sale. Sears Roebuck store at Syracuse, New York." Medium format negative by John Collier. View full size.


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Grandma's Washer of Choice

As a child growing up in the 60's, I remember well my grandmother owning two of these. She could afford a more modern style washer, but the wringer ones are what she preferred. I guess probably because that is what she was used to using. Sitting on her back porch, watching her feed those clothes through the wringers, looked like so much fun! As much as I'd beg her to let me do it she'd never let me for fear of getting my hand caught!!

At the cottage

My dad added a room to the back of my grandparents cottage the year after he added an electric pump for running water. He installed a flush toilet, and, a wringer washer just like the one in the picture appeared soon after. It was over in the corner, and I do not remember seeing it in use, but know that my grandmother would have used it to wash all the towels and such us ragamuffins got sand-encrusted at the beach.

She sure put up with a lot of noise from the succeeding groups of grand kids showing up week after week for their time at the cottage. It was a never-ending battle to keep sand out of the front room, and encouragments to 'Wipe Your Feet Outside'or 'Get the sand OFF' were made often and AUDIBLY. It didn't help. There seemed to always be a layer of sand in the bottom of the washer tub. Wonder if it wore out the gizzards.

Old-style washers with wringer

When my wife and I bought a 1920s Tampa bungalow, it had a wringer Maytag, originally fitted with a gas engine, in the garage building out back. Patty decided to use it one day, just for laughs, but she was astonished at how clean the clothes were.

Soon, that old Maytag was what she used all the time. If I remember correctly, Patty collected the water after washing and used that on her flowerbeds, and the soap helped control insects.

Regarding that wringer, yep; I caught my hand in it one time and that was all it took to teach me to stay clear of it after that.

But the old wringer washers worked and drying on a clothesline also had advantages.

Remember the "Suds Saver" Feature?

You would stopper one side of your dual basement sink (which was probably made of concrete) and the washer would drain the sudsy wash water into that side. Then with the next load, the washer would suck that wash water back in and reuse it. My mother would wash the whites or lights first and "suds save" to wash the kids' clothes after that. It certainly did save water, especially if you had a big family and washed lots of loads.

And some change...

I'm sorry, but it's that 95 cents that broke the deal for me.

Looking at photos like this

Well... Europe was not only at war, but... twenty years late? This design, for me it's just like 1960 or something like that.

Demonstration Washing Machine

On the extreme right, there is a washer with glass sides. These were used in department and appliance stores to demonstrate the washing action of the agitator. You could easily see how the clothes circulated in the water. When I left home in 1967 and moved into an old Vancouver, B.C. apartment building, the laundry featured three wringer washers with dual concrete laundry tubs for rinsing, a gas-fired ironing machine, and clotheslines in the spacious roof-top laundry room. Elderly ladies taught me how to use the machines - I was 19 at the time. In the United States, automatics outsold wringers as early as 1951, but in Canada that did not happen until 1968. One of the main reasons was that an automatic was three times more expensive than a wringer. I still have a 1944 Beatty wringer that I use occasionally. Here is a video on how to do your laundry with a wringer washer.

Skip the Line

pennsylvaniaproud said "if it was winter time shovel the snow out from under the [clothes]lines. Clothes would freeze solid then we'd bring them back in and hang them up in the basement. Coal furnace would dry them in half and hour."

Why not just hang them in the basement to dry in the first place (in winter)? Not getting why do the extra steps of outdoor clothesline.

I remember those machines

Along with the two galvanized washtubs for rinsing the clothes. My job to fill them with water and the washer. Punch the hole in the bottle of bluing for the white clothes. Wipe the outside clotheslines off and if it was winter time shovel the snow out from under the lines. Clothes would freeze solid then we'd bring them back in and hang them up in the basement. Coal furnace would dry them in half and hour. Only on Mondays. Wash day.

A Dream Washer

Wringer washers seem primitive now but they made life so much easier for women. I am old enough to remember my mother using one. In the photo above, you can see female customers in the background. They are all dressed up in hats, "good" coats, stockings and heels. Perhaps this Sears store was in downtown Syracuse. A trip downtown warranted getting dressed up.

Mom-in-Law Was Delighted, Too

My mother-in-law, who grew up as a Pennsylvania farm girl, used one of these until she moved out of her suburban Philadelphia house in 2002, aged 85. She'd run the clothes through the wringer and then put 'em in her fairly new automatic dryer. The grandkids were enthralled!

Familiar contraption!

That looks a lot like the one that was in the basement of the house I shared in grad school at Duke in the early 80s. We were so broke, as students, we used that old thing and its wringer instead of going to a laundromat. If you have never gotten grabbed by an electric wringer, you can't fully appreciate that old saying about getting your teat caught in a wringer. YEOW!

Not Exactly Cheap

But I'm sure that every part was Made in the U.S. A.

Mom Was Delighted

I remember my mother getting one like that circa 1950; primitive it may have been, but it beat the heck out of the tub and washboard it replaced.

Incidentally the price translates to $650 in current dollars. Not cheap, especially considering the lack of disposable income people had back then.

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