Category Archives: History American

Wash Day Miracle

Washing on the Li River, Yangshuo

We don’t think much about washing clothes. Which is to say most of us don’t think it’s an enjoyable occupation. This is true whether we take our washing to the laundromat, or have the luxury of a home machine. For some bizarre reason, every time I use the washing machine, I think it’s some kind of miracle. Dirty clothes in; clean clothes out. I don’t have to take my clothes to the river or haul water to boil over a fire. Less than one hundred years ago, women in rural America, lacking both electricity and running water, did this every Monday.

Robert Caro, famous for his multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, wrote about wash day in Texas during the 1930s. First, pump water from the well. Next, cut wood and lay a fire outside. Boil vat of water. Now, it’s time to do the laundry.

Scrub clothes in a tub with lye soap. Move the clothes around with a paddle. Shift soapy wash to a rinse tub. An average tub held about eight gallons of water.




Another method, illustrated here usedBailey_Wringing_Machine_Co._ a smaller tub. But clothes still had to be scrubbed on a washboard and eventually drawn through a wringer to remove as much water as possible before hanging the wet laundry on a line.



THOR-32 washing machine


In 1933 women with access to piped water and electricity could utilize the THOR-32 electric washing machine. It had a revolving, reversing cylinder to “lift and dip the clothes through active, soapy water.” And it featured a “wonderful metal swinging wringer.”

In the 21st century, we take washing machines for granted. Mine adds the soap, washes, rinses, spins and produces clothes that are practically dry already. And, yes, I do have a dryer to complete the process, as well as a clothesline.

This amazing machine rewards us with the gift of time. It also uses energy produced by electricity or gas. Both affect our environment. It’s a trade off.

One of my loyal readers is an economics professor. Last week he sent me a link to a talk Hans Rosling presented at TEDWomen2010. From an analytic perspective, Rosling explains the impact such a simple machine has had on our world and points out the thousands of people, like the woman in the first photo, who still lack even this labor saving device. The video is nine minutes long and well worth your time.

Hans Rosling. “The Magic Washing Machine.”

Here’s the link.


Photo of woman washing on banks of the Li River, Yanghshuo, China by Author.

Remaining illustrations in Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

REA Woman Works Washboard.

Bailey Wringing Machine.

THOR 32 Electric Washer, 1933.

Clay Coppedge.”LBJ and the Sad Irons.”

Washing Machine Leads to 1920s Scandal

This started out to be a blog about early labor saving devices, so I started researching washing “machines.” The machine on the left has a tub, agitator, and wringer. All improved the washing experience. As a term, “Washing Machines” wasn’t getting me what I wanted, so I entered “Wash Day,” which led me to a 1915… Continue Reading


The first official Decoration Day was on May 30, 1868 at Arlington Cemetery. General James Garfield gave a speech, and 5,000 participants decorated the 20,000+ Union and Confederate graves. Local observances soon took place throughout the country as a time to remember and a time to enjoy ceremonies, parades, and speeches. After World War I,… Continue Reading


Once upon a time, perhaps around 1955, there were four career paths for women. In alphabetical order women could become nurses, secretaries, teachers, or wives. Wives, of course, didn’t work. [Note the fictional aspect here. Of course wives worked, and there were lots of jobs done by women. But technically a job isn’t a career.… Continue Reading


Life is stressful these days. It must be time for a cupcake break. Fun, exuberant little cakes, the cup cake is almost sincere in its potential for simplicity. There’s automatic portion control. The little cakes bake more quickly than regular cakes which makes them energy efficient. Serving cupcakes, especially with their paper wrappers, is less… Continue Reading


This Friday is St. Patrick’s Day. There will be quantities of green beer, lots of people wearing green, parades, consumption of corned beef & cabbage, and festivities for young and old. The day is so much a part of American culture that it’s easy to forget the Irish were once unwanted immigrants. Between 1820 and… Continue Reading


You know it’s March when cherry trees prepare to bloom. It’s also a month of female-oriented events. In the U.S. the entire month carries the label “Women’s History Month.” Go to any library or school campus, and you’ll probably see displays of notable women. Visibility in a good thing, but is it enough? Wednesday, March 8… Continue Reading

Is There a “Perfect” Closet?

Is There a “Perfect” Closet?

  Spring officially begins in about a month. Some people think of bunnies and chicks. Some wonder if they should clean something. I dream of organizing my closet. There’s nothing really wrong with my closet. It has a rack and top shelf on either side. One side has a dresser with room to stand the… Continue Reading

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