Saturday 7 January 2017

No Love Lost on Laundry

Before I came to work today I threw a load of laundry into the washing machine.  It took me all of 2 minutes to put the clothes in, throw on some detergent, and press the start button.  When I walked into the museum, once of the first things I noticed was an old wooden, hand crank washing machine that probably dates from the mid to late 1800s. 

It’s made of wood and metal with two wooden wringers held in place by wooden dowels.  

You can see on one side where the washer can be attached to a pole or something sturdy to hold the washer still while cranking the clothes through the wringers.

There are metal springs on each side with a handle on one side to turn the wringers.  Often this was a 2 person job with one woman turning the crank and the other feeding the clothes through the wringers.  

You can also see in this picture where there is a metal screw in the wood that connects the two legs, and on the bottom is a wood peg.

The wooden peg connects the two legs on each side, just below the metal spring. 

There is no date on this washer, but on the bottom in black print letters is the following:

A1 Washer
J.A. Whelpley
Greenwich, NB
Patent Applied For

This is likely the same James Alfred Whelpley who was born in 1839 in Westfield, New Brunswick, Canada and invented the “Long Reach” ice skates. 

The rollers aren’t smooth – they are grooved to help remove more water from the clothes.  Many of the hand wringing washers have smooth rollers so this one is definitely different from most others.  I was unable to find any record that the inventor's patent was granted.

I can’t even begin to imagine the work that washing clothes with this machine would have involved!  Hauling water, heating water on a stove, wringing the clothes through this hand crank…it would not have been a 2 minute job.  I know we often yearn for what we think are the gentler times of yesteryear, however, especially on days like today where it’s around -15° I’m reminded once again of how lucky we are to live in the 21st century. (1970.105)  


  1. We seem to be busier than ever and yet we have modern conveniences that were unheard of in the days of this wringer. Its an interesting piece but I'm glad we've advanced beyond that.

    1. Kings Co. Museum8 January 2017 at 14:52

      Yes, it makes me think twice when I start to complain about laundry. Before our modern washing machines this would have been an all day job. No wonder there were professional washer women!

  2. Sure beats pounding clothes with a stick at the nearest stream. In 1945 clothes were washed in a big grey wash tub in our house on Adelaide St. Wrung by hand and hung on the line. Then a few years later a wringer washer. I remember how horrified we were when Mom put a squirrel through the wringer as she didn't know it was in her bathrobe pocket! We had moved to the outskirts of SJ and had no well at first. Water came from a spring about a quarter of a mile away, then had to be heated on an oil stove before filling the washer. There were 6 of us and my mother deserved a medal for endurance even in the 1950's.

  3. And they call women the weaker sex . I don't think so.