Remembering the Wringer Washer
Do you remember the wringer washer? The invention of the motor-driven wringer washer was a huge timesaver for American women. It freed women from long hours of backbreaking labor scrubbing the weekly family laundry on a washboard and wringing it all out by hand. For families with electricity and running water, doing the wash meant rolling the washer up to a sink and filling it with hot water from a hose attached to the faucet. For women whose homes lacked electricity or running water, there were washers with gasoline-powered motors. They still had to heat the water over a fire or on a wood stove and fill the machine with a bucket, but at least the washing and wringing were less time consuming than they had been. Wringer washers survived in many homes well into the 1960s.
The photos below are from the collections of the Library of Congress. We hope you enjoy them. Be sure to also see the stories from our readers on this site: “The Gas-Powered Maytag Wringer Washer” and “The Last Wringer Washer” in the 1930s and 1960s pages under the “Events by Decade” heading.
H.L. from Milford, DE has sent us the following recollection:
“I remember as a little girl going to my grandmother’s home in the early 1960s. On wash day she would bring out this big monster and hand pump water into the drum and get boiling water from her stove.
I was too young to appreciate the hardship that she went through just to wash her clothes, especially linens and towels. She would only do laundry once a week, I can now understand why. I can’t imagine the impact this would have on my life today, if I had to go to such lengths to wash clothing, but then maybe I would not have so much in my closet and think that I have nothing to wear.
We need to look back and think about how spoiled we truly are today.”
Deana C. from Arlington, VA writes:
“We had a wringer washer when I was growing up in the early 1950s. Looking back on it, I realize how much work it was for my mother to do the wash for us each week. Not only did she have to fill the machine from the basement sink for both the wash and rinse, and put all the clothes through the wringer before she rinsed them and then again when the rinse was finished, but then she had to hang all the wet clothes outside on the clothesline. We didn’t have a dryer, back then no one we knew did. In the winter the clothes froze stiff a board on cold days. My father’s heavy work overalls got so stiff that they would be able to stand up by themselves when Mother brought them inside. There were clothes draped over all the radiators thawing since everything was still mostly wet once the ice was out of it. It took her a whole day to do the wash, and if there was bad weather for several days in a row it was a disaster. Our lives are so different now.”
Mike B. from Rochester, NY writes:
“Seeing the post about the frozen clothes reminded me of the time a bunch of boys and I threw snowballs through the sheets my mother had hung on the clothesline. We were having an ice-ball war in my backyard on a bitter cold winter day. Mom had put the sheets out to dry and they were frozen stiff. The first iceball hit by accident, and the sheet was so frozen the iceball went through it like glass, leaving a perfectly round hole. We were so amazed by this that being kids, our common sense left us and a bunch more iceballs and snowballs followed. By the time my mother looked out the window and realized what was going on, those sheets had some pretty impressive holes. The sound of the kitchen window opening brought us back to reality pretty quick. I had to stay indoors after school for the next week, while my mother patiently sewed up all the holes in the sheets. Mom kept the sheets for several more years–in those days no one threw anything out unless they had to–and every time she put one on the bed she reminded me of how all those round patches came to be there. Nothing to do with wringer washers, even though we did have one, just a funny story.”
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