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How to Do Laundry, 1920’s and Later (Part 2)

"The punishment your clothes get in an ordinary washing is harder on them than all the wear you give them the rest of the week. You can't afford to let the old hard laundry soap wear out any more clothes in the washing." From a Lux ad, Delineator, August 1926.

“The punishment your clothes get in an ordinary washing is harder on them than all the wear you give them the rest of the week. You can’t afford to let the old hard laundry soap wear out any more clothes in the washing.” From a Lux ad, Delineator, August 1926.

Modern Methods of Laundering, article from Delineator magazine, July 1927.

"Modern Methods of Laundering," Delineator, page 40, July 1927.

“Modern Methods of Laundering,” Delineator, page 40, July 1927.

This full-page article described the way to do laundry in 1927, with step-by-step illustrations. I will show the images and text, from number 1 to number 11, with occasional comments or explanations. (Even if you’re hauling your laundry to a laundromat every week, reading this article may make you glad it’s not 1927.)

The horizontal washer used in the “Methods” illustrations is less familiar than this upright “Mangle washing machine,” but the steps would be the same.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

First, Prepare Your Soap

Laundry soap options in 1927. They included grating your own soap from a bar. Fels Naptha soap, in a big bar, was rubbed on difficult stains and rings around the collar.

Laundry soap options in 1927. They included purchasing flakes, chips, or powder; liquifying your soap ahead of time(right); and (left) grating your own laundry soap from a bar. Fels Naptha soap, which came in a big bar, was rubbed on difficult stains and rings around the collar.

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Hook Up the Hose

Filling the washing machine. There wa wide variety in washing machine styles; this one is cylindrical. 1927.

Filling the washing machine. There was wide variety in washing machine styles; this one is cylindrical. 1927. She is filling it by hand with a hose attached to her sink’s faucet, and presumably has a hot water heater. Earlier washers were filled bucket by bucket, with water heated on the stove.

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Weigh the Clothes

Weighing a load of clothes. The Savage brand washer could handle 10 lbs.

Weighing a load of laundry. The Savage brand wringerless washer could handle ten lbs. With wringer type washers, clothes were constantly being removed from the washer, and others were being added.

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In 1927, too big a load could burn out your motor. White clothes were pre-soaked or pre-washed with borax and soap. Borax is a naturally occurring mineral that converts some water molecules to hydrogen peroxide — which is increasingly being used instead of chlorine bleaches.

Adding soap to a 1927 washer.

Adding soap to a 1927 washer. You were supposed to dissolve the soap before putting it in the machine, to be sure it would dissolve completely. Even in the 1950s, laundry soap didn’t always dissolve in cold water.

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Find the Electric Switch (and the Emergency Stop)

This power switch is inconveniently located near the floor. Notice the faucet for draining the washing machine.

This power switch is inconveniently located near the floor. Notice the faucet for draining water out of the washing machine.

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Another article mentioned the importance of having an easy-to-reach emergency shut-off for the electric wringer. Just the other day I met a woman who remembered getting her braid caught in the wringer when she was a girl. Luckily, she could reach the switch before her head was pulled up against the wringer. Serious injury was possible if you couldn’t reach the wringer switch. Since you used your fingers to guide the laundry into the wringer, you had to pay attention.

Watch It Make Suds

You could not trust the soap to dissolve evenly.

You could not trust the soap to dissolve evenly, and women didn’t trust a soap unless it made lots of suds.

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Here, you can see the wringer, in profile, next to the woman’s head. Presumably, this control lever is also the safety switch.

Load Washer, Set Alarm Clock

Adding the clothes while the washer is running.

Adding the clothes while the washer is running.

(The wooden rod was also used for moving laundry around in the washer.)

(The wooden rod was also used for moving laundry around in the washer.)

Uh-oh:  the overnight soak or preliminary washing, and the first run through the wringer, apparently had to be done ahead of time.

Before the kitchen timer.... Once the alarm clock was set, the laundress hurried to do other tasks.

1927: Before the kitchen timer or automatic wash cycle…. Once the alarm clock was set, the laundress hurried to do other tasks.

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Make Starch on the Stove

While the machine was washing sturdy fabrics, delicate silks and hosiery awaited hand washing. And liquid starch had to be made. I don’t know what “tinted” means in this context, but fabrics were not always colorfast. And some whites had to be “blued.” This would  also be a chance to lug a heavy basket of wet laundry out to the yard and hang it on the washline with clothes pegs or clothes pins. In Spring and Fall, the wash had to be hung out earlier in the day.

Ad for Quick Starch, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Ad for Quick Elastic Hot Starch, WHC, Nov. 1936. It was “quick” because you didn’t need to cook it — just dissolve it in cold water and then add hot water. Stir.

“It parallels the advance in … automatically heated irons. Practically self-cooking….. Thin it down to give any degree of gloss or delicate “sizing.” Clothes which needed to be starched were dipped in liquid starch while damp, and wrung out  before ironing.

Tending the washing machine, hand-washing delicates, boiling the whites on a low laundry stove. Fels Naptha soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Tending the washing machine (L), hand-washing delicates (C), boiling the whites on a low laundry stove (R.) Fels Naptha soap ad, Delineator, March 1927. Boiling hankies and diapers controlled germs. Boiling long underwear killed lice.

In 2017, I when set my high efficiency, low-water use washing machine, it weighs the load, does the pre-soaking, one or two rinses as desired, and “wrings” out the wash water and the rinse water in a spin cycle — while I leave the room and do something else. In 1927, even with an electric washer — which not everyone had — doing the laundry meant tending the wash constatntly.

Put Through the Wringer

clothes werefished out of the sudsy water and "put through the wringer." In 1950, My grandmother had a special pole, about three feet long, for fishing clothes out of the hot water, or insuring that the load stayed evenly distributed.

Clothes were fished out of the sudsy water and “put through the wringer one at a time.” In 1950, my grandmother had a special wooden pole, about three feet long, for lifting clothes out of the hot water, or insuring that the load stayed evenly distributed.

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Boiling and Blueing

The use of scalding hot water explains the importance of Sanforized, pre-shrunk fabrics in shirts and other clothing.

Ad for Sanforized-Shrunk dresses, Delineator, Sept. 1933.

Ad for Sanforized-Shrunk dresses, Delineator, Sept. 1933. The “Sanforized” process was introduced around 1930.

About blueing:  As explained in RememberedSummers, “Laundry had to be hung out to dry in your yard, in fresh air, which meant that it was exposed to public view. Most back yards contained two tall posts (picture small, square telephone poles) with four or more clotheslines  strung between them from the crossbars…. Of course, in the old days, all of your neighbors hung out laundry on the same day you did (Monday), so there was some competition as to who had the whitest sheets. In the 1940s , my grandmother always put blueing in her final rinse [to get the yellow out.]” (And yes, some “blue-haired old ladies” used it on their hair! Don’t!)

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Ad for Cube Starch, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Ad for Staley’s Gloss Starch Cubes, WHC, Nov. 1936.

Without starch, inexpensive fabrics became limp. If you wanted to keep cottons looking new, you needed to starch them before you ironed them.

But, before you were ready to iron the rest of the laundry, you had to dry it. This is not what I think of when I read the word “dryer:”

A heated cupboard for indoor drying. 1927.

A heated cupboard for indoor drying. 1927.

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Hung Out to Dry

I have never visited a house with a dryer like this, but then, I live in sunny California. Clothes were normally dried out of doors …

Dryig clothing in the air, Borax ad, 1924.

Drying clothing in the air, Borax ad, 1924. A solar and wind powered dryer.

Solar and wind powered drying, the laundry line worked well for at least half of the year. But air drying doesn’t get the wrinkles out of modern permanent press clothing. Some modern planned communities even forbid laundry lines as unsightly.

My Texas-born husband tells me that in really cold weather, laundry will freeze dry — or at least, dry enough to be ironed. Rainy weather meant hanging your laundry to dry in the house — a messy and inconvenient necessity.

I have never known life without a washing machine, or at least a laundromat where I could wash and dry three loads at a time and be home within two hours. In 1927, that could take two days. No wonder many women “sent out” their laundry.

However, we ought to remember that, in the nineteen twenties, many American women were enjoying labor-saving inventions that have still not been introduced in many parts of the world. It’s time to remember how lucky I am.

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

How to Do Laundry, 1920’s and Later (Part 1)

"Things to Be Thankful For" in November of 1933: Washing machines. Delineator magazine, p 29.

“Things to Be Thankful For” in November of 1933: Washing machines. Delineator magazine, p. 29.

“Things to be thankful for.” That’s exactly what I was thinking when I read this article from July 1927:

The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering, Delineator, JUly 1927, p. 40 (detail)

The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering, Delineator magazine, July 1927, p. 40 (detail)

I will go through that article, step by step, in the next post (Part 2). First, for those too young to remember why women had “Wash Day Blues,” a little background.

Little Lulu day-of-the-week embroidered towels. McCall Needlework catalog, May 1950.

Little Lulu day-of-the-week embroidered dish towels. McCall Needlework catalog, May 1950. Little Lulu was a newspaper cartoon character.

Monday was Wash Day — even if you were a doll or a cartoon character. Tuesday was ironing day. On Wednesday, you mended clothes and replaced any buttons broken in the wash.

Raggedy Ann day-of-the-week dishtowels; McCall embroidery pattern, May 1950 catalog.

Raggedy Ann day-of-the-week dishtowels; McCall embroidery pattern, May 1950 catalog.

As a child in the 1950’s, I saw my mother and my grandmother doing the laundry with washing machines very much like this one:

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

That means I recognize many of the steps in “Modern Methods of Laundering” (1927) and may be able to explain a bit. I was a working class kid; my parents married in 1933 — and, as a child in 1950, I didn’t realize that my parents and their friends were still using appliances that were twenty years out of date. That roller thing on top of the machine was the “wringer,” two rolls of wood or hard rubber that squeezed excess water out of your clothes — and squeezed random creases into them.

The wringer was also called “the mangle.” See the pressure adjusting lever/screw handle at the top? If you’ve handled vintage clothing that was washable, you have probably noticed a lot of broken buttons on shirts and blouses. Blame the mangle. The mangle was no friend to glass or mother-of-pearl (shell) buttons. It was also a real danger to fingers, hair, and housewives wearing dresses with long ties, scarves, or ribbons at the neck. This picture explains the origin of the expression “to be put through the wringer.”

Woman putting wet clothes into the wringer, June, 1927. Once the soapy water was squeezed out, the clothes were rinsed and put through the wringer again.

Woman putting wet clothes into the wringer (which has an electric motor,) June, 1927. Once the soapy water was squeezed out, the clothes were rinsed and put through the wringer again. Standing in a puddle of water on the floor while operating an electric washer? Not recommended.

My father was very careful never to use naughty language around me, which is probably why this moment made such an impression:  One day when he came home from work, my mother told him that a customer had phoned several times, and that she sounded angry.  My father sighed and said, “She’s got her tit in a wringer about something.” Now, every time I get a mammogram, I remember our old washing machine and think, “tit in a wringer….” It always makes me smile. (Thanks, Dad!)

Woman using a clean pine dowel rod or broom handle to pull clothes out of the hot water before inserting them in the mangle. Fels Naptha Soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Woman using a smooth [pine?] dowel rod or broom handle to pull clothes out of the hot water before inserting them in the mangle. Fels Naptha Soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Another digression: Before I could read, I thought that naptha soap was “Nap, the Soap”  — like “Smokey, the Bear.”

So that we can understand the writers’ enthusiasm for “Modern Methods of Laundering” in 1927, let’s take a look at previous washing machine advice:

From an article on choosing a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

From an article on choosing a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21. Heat the water on the stove, pour it into the washer.

This old-fashioned machine is not electric — to agitate the clothes, I think you rock the tub with that big lever on the side. You heat water on (or in) your stove, carry it to the machine one bucket at a time until the tub is full, rub clothes on the washboard inside the tub to remove stubborn dirt, and drain the dirty water out of the faucet near the bottom into a bucket. Carry bucket to sink or back porch. Dump water. To rinse clothes, repeat the process. Two rinses recommended. (My mother sometimes rinsed the first load, ran it through the wringer, then added soap and my father’s overalls to the still warm rinse water to wash the next load. When you had to fill and drain the tub by hand, this was a time saver.)

Carrying buckets of water and big, heavy baskets full of wet clothing (you took it outside and hung it on a line to dry) was hard work. Notice how muscular this washerwoman looks. (“Laundress” was a more polite job description.)

Washerwoman and housewife, ad for Pepperell sheets, Delineator, Feb. 1925.

Washerwoman and housewife, ad for Pepperell sheets, Delineator, Feb. 1925.

In fact, this household budget for 1924 assumes that no woman who can afford a laundress will wash anything heavier than lingerie and stockings with her own hands. And doing the laundry took the laundress two days.

Suggested budget, Delineator magazine, July 1924.

Suggested budget, Delineator magazine, July 1924. Right after housing and heating costs is the cost of laundry (almost half the rent!) “Flat work” would be large items, heavy when wet, like blankets, sheets and tablecloths, which took time to iron, too.

A more convenient electric washing machine, which you fill with a hose, and which empties into a dedicated drain in the floor of your house. August, 1926.

A more convenient washing machine, which you fill with a hose, and which empties into a dedicated drain in the floor of your house. August, 1926.

By 1933, the better quality washers had a water pump, which allowed the dirty water to be expelled through a hose into a sink or drain — as washers do today.

Washing machines add a water pump for emptying the machine. Delineator, Nov. 1933, p. 29.

Washing machines add a water pump for emptying the machine. Delineator, Nov. 1933, p. 29. “Half the hard work of washing is in handling the water…. The worker should not have to lift it.”

“The services of the washing-machine have replaced the washerwoman, and electric power is replacing woman power for the washing of clothes.” — Delineator, August 1926. That is not to say you could put a load in the washer, walk away,  and get on with other housework.

Selecting a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

Selecting a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

There was quite a variety of machine styles. Some of these seem to have wringers that can be cranked by hand, although the article mentioned the importance of a wringer that can be locked in several positions and which has a “safety release that can be quickly and easily operated” — in case your hair or fingers got caught in the mangle. Also, the electric washing machine motor — usually visible under the machine — “must be protected from water.”

Maytag washing machine ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Maytag washing machine ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

The idea of building a box around the machine to conceal the motor was still a new one. I was surprised to see this 1929 ad for a Savage washing machine, which didn’t need a mangle wringer; it had a spin cycle.

The Savage spin washer did not use a mangle to extract water from clothes. Ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929.

The Savage Wringerless washer did not use a mangle to extract water from clothes. Ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929. Ten pounds of clothes “from hamper to line in an hour.”

Detail of ad for Savage spin washer, Feb. 1929. Delineator magazine.

Detail of ad for Savage spin washer, Feb. 1929. Delineator magazine. “Empties itself” automatically!

Nevertheless, mangle washing machines continued to be sold. This Thor machine used the motor that ran the wringer to also run a mangle iron — the parts were interchangeable.

Ad for Thor washer with wringer and interchangeable mangle iron. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930, p. 53.

Ad for Thor washer with wringer and interchangeable mangle iron. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930, p. 53.

"From washer to ironer in 10 seconds." Thor washing machine ad, 1930.

“From washer to ironer in 10 seconds.” Thor mangle washing machine ad, 1930. Doesn’t that look easy?

When there were no “permanent press” fabrics, ironing large, flat items like tablecloths, sheets, pillowcases, and dish towels took a long time. In the fifties, my father bought a rotary iron — second hand — and made a point of using it, although we quickly discovered that ironing shirts, dresses, and other clothing on it took more skill than we had time to master.

Using a mangle iron, Delineator, June 1929. 1929. Getting a large sheet through it was not this easy.

Using a “mangle” or rotary iron, Delineator, June 1929. Getting a large sheet through it was not this easy.

Sitting beside the washing machine to use the mangle iron. Thor ad, 1929.

Sitting beside the washing machine to use the rotary iron, which, like the wringer, pivoted. Thor ad, 1929.

You would certainly have needed to make sure your floor was mopped and dry before putting a sheet through this machine  attached to the washer. At $149.25, the Thor combination would be a sizable investment (some families lived on about $35 per week in 1925). [To read one magazine’s article about the cost of living in 1925, click here.]

On the other hand, a woman (like my mother-in-law) who was willing to take in washing and ironing could supplement the family income.

"Iron on Tuesday" embroidery pattern, McCall Needlecraft catalog, Nov. 1950.

“Iron on Tuesday” embroidery pattern, McCall Needlecraft catalog, Nov. 1950.

If you hired a laundress for two days a week, as recommended, the second day would be devoted to ironing.

Sunbeam electric iron, 1924 ad. The "set" included the iron and a box to store it in.

Sunbeam electric iron, 1924 ad. The “set” included the iron and a box to store it in.

The electric iron was certainly an improvement over the irons my grandmother heated on the stove (she had two or three — one getting warm while another was in use) but you needed to “sprinkle” your clothes to dampen them before ironing — until the steam iron arrived.

A sprayer for dampening ironing. Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

A sprayer for dampening ironing. Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1936. In 1950, my grandmother used a beverage bottle with a purchased cork-and-perforated-metal top — like a big salt shaker, but containing water.

However, by the time this sprayer was featured, a steam iron could also be purchased.

A steam iron, Woman's Home Companion, September 1937.

A “steaming  iron,” as explained by Woman’s Home Companion, September 1937. “You need no wet cloth for pressing woolens and no sprinkling for dry fabrics.”

I will show the entire, step-by-step, illustrated article “The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering,” from 1927, in the next post.

I inherited this Sunbonnet Sue dish towel. She was once part of a set of seven day of the week towels.

I inherited this Sunbonnet Sue dish towel. It was once part of a set of seven day-of-the-week towels. Sue, bent over her wash tub, was appliqued to a bleached flour sack.  I wish I had two dozen!

You can read more about Day of the Week towels and laundry customs at RememberedSummers.

 

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