Washing machine

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

A friend handed me a copy of Mrs. Albert Wiese’s letter to the Kosanke Bros., who sold her husband a new washing machine, circa 1927.

Kouts, Ind.

Kosanke Bros.

Kouts, Ind.

Dear Sirs:

I have always been skeptical about power washing machines because I have always been very particular about my washing and thought a machine would be unable to please me, and not being mechanically inclined I was afraid I would be unable to operate same, but I am more than pleased to state that I am very glad my husband bought the American Beauty washing machine against my wishes as my wash day is much easier.

Yours truly,

Signed: Mrs. Albert Wiese

(Whew. All one sentence.)

I don’t know whether she or someone at Kosanke’s typed a handwritten note for distribution. Mrs. Wiese probably wouldn’t have had a typewriter – too mechanical for her – but Kosanke’s added a postscript:

“Mr. Albert Wiese purchased a number thirty-one American Beauty Power Washing machine for his wife.” Against her wishes.

I’ve been pondering this glimpse of domestic life in the Mid-west, trying to figure out how I can use it in a column. Google provided loads of data, but most valuable to me was an ad for “The New Copper 40 American Beauty Washing Machine.”

It will be “The Answer to your Washing Problem,” reads the legend. The drum of the machine is indeed covered with copper and the wringer looks wide enough to make short work of rinsing and spin-drying. Not sure how it was powered. You can see the hand-cranks on the wringer.

This model looks more sophisticated than the one I had, a hand-me-down from my mother-in-law’s basement when she moved to Florida. We had a double utility sink in the (full) basement of our first house, and the washer snugged up to it. I always got at least double use out of water that would otherwise have been wasted.

To this day I wish I had a “green” alternative like that instead of being forced to discharge perfectly good rinse water into the sewer. I usually washed two and sometimes three loads in hot soapy water, then rinsed each twice, passing them from tub to tub and back via the wringer. When I was all done, saving as much water as possible, I had lots to use wherever it was needed: to mop the floor, to water the plants, to wash the car.

Sure, there was that flight of steps to climb from the basement, but we were young and that was our fitness program. You notice that I haven’t mentioned a dryer. We had a solar dryer – a clothesline in the backyard – that was absolutely free.

I still look back and marvel that we raised three little girls through the diaper years, and line-dried every one of them (every diaper, not every girl). When the New Jersey weather was wet, we had clotheslines in the basement plus a drying rack Dave made for me. We still have it.

We bought our first clothes dryer when we moved from the west side of Peachtree City to this house on the east side, in 1984. Promised myself I’d still hang sheets and towels outside to dry, and I did, for years – until the bugs drove me into the house.

Bugs? Ants running from one tree to another used to mob the wet clothes. We never found anything that would deter them. Additionally, I’m a mosquito magnet and even a quick run to grab sheets off the line meant mosquitoes got lunch.

While I was reflecting about my own laundry history, I started to remember a laundry arrangement we saw in several very old villages in France. One was outdoors, open except for a gabled roof, and consisted of several deep mortar squares, on a slope.

A pipe poured water into the top basin, which spilled to the next, which spilled to the next, and again and again, until another pipe carried it away. Put your dirty clothes plus soap into the lowest basin, and let them soak or else scrub them against the basin’s rough sides. Lift clothes up into the next basin, where much of the soap (and dirt) comes out of them. From here to the next, and you can see why there is no soap left by the time you give them one more dip in the top basin, hence in the cleanest water.

I don’t recall how they squeezed out enough water to carry the clean clothes home. To this day Europeans spread wet clothes over bushes to dry, and I imagine they also had clotheslines. The whole low-tech affair makes me smile. Can’t you just hear the chattering and laughter that must have gone on to distract from the numbing work at hand.

Oh, there’s one more letter, from a brave man who bought his wife a washing machine, apparently without her knowledge:

Kouts, Indiana

Kosanke Brothers

Kouts, Indiana

Dear Sirs:

You folks know what the old German saying is about wash day, and I can assure you that since my wife is using the American Beauty Power washing machine at our house, I need not watch my step, as the washing is much easier.

Yours very truly

Signed: Albert Wiese