The story about the 1935 gas-engine Maytag wringer washer in the 1930s section of this site (editor’s note: see our page “The Gas-Powered Maytag Wringer Washer — Wash Day, Oklahoma circa 1937” http://americansremember.com/?page_id=211) reminded me of my grandmother’s 1940s-vintage washer, which she used all the way up until 1963. Hers was a General Electric with an electric motor, and her house had running water, but using that washer was still a lot of work because it didn’t have a timer for the wash cycle. You put water in by attaching the fill hose to the nearest faucet and letting the water run until you figured there was enough in there for what you needed to wash. You put in the clothes, some Ivory Flakes or Rinso Blue detergent, and turned the machine on with a lever that looked like the gearshift in a car.
Once you turned it on, it kept agitating until you turned it off. The tub didn’t spin either. To get the water out, you put the drain hose into the sink and turned on the machine’s pump. That got the water out of the tub, but the clothes were still completely soaked. This is where the wringer came in. The wringer for my grandmother’s machine was on a swivel. You positioned it over the sink and fed the wet clothes piece by piece through the rollers to press out all the water. You repeated the whole process to rinse the clothes. When the clothes were rinsed and wrung out, you hung them outside on the clothesline.
I was fascinated by this contraption, especially the cover which looked like a giant pot lid, but it really was a lot of work. For years, my grandfather kept offering to buy Grandma an automatic washer and dryer, but she couldn’t be persuaded to part with the old machine. She said it wasn’t broken and it would be a waste to throw it out.
Grandpa finally got rid of the old washer by stealth. He told Grandma he had seen a snake in the basement to keep her out of the laundry room. He smuggled in a plumber and electrician to install the new hookups, telling her they were there to work on the furnace and radiator pipes. In the meantime, Sears delivered the brand-new washer and dryer to my uncle’s house a few miles down the road.
When my grandparents left for their regular Saturday trip to the grocery store, my uncle and cousin smuggled in the new washer and dryer. They hooked up the new machines and the old washer was spirited away before Grandma and Grandpa got home.
Grandma loved her new washer and dryer, but always said the new washer did not get the clothes as clean as the old one.
Here are a couple of great old photos from newspaper and magazine ads for GE wringer washers similar to my grandmother’s. Note the “pot lid” cover on the machine in the photo on the left, and the drain hose going to the sink in the ad on the right. Those were the days!
There are more photos of vintage wringer washers on our “Images of America” page. Be sure to take a look! http://americansremember.com/?page_id=683
Dorothy G. from Ohio writes: My grandmother had an old wringer washer too. She wouldn’t let me get anywhere near that wringer when she was putting the clothes through! Hers had a special quick release that you could push down that would separate the rollers and take the pressure off in case anything got stuck or tangled, or your fingers ended up in there. I wonder if they all had that? It was so much work–doing laundry used to take an entire day, but everything smelled so good when it came in off the clothesline. We really take for granted the conveniences we have now.
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