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REMEMBER THIS: The gift of a Wringer Washer

Laundry has come a long way over the years

My mother was quite disappointed when she couldn’t find a new wringer washing machine to replace her old one that had just packed it in. This would have been some time in the 1990s.

Had I been a teenager and still at home, I would have jumped for joy as the laundry was my chore during summer holiday months. With a wringer washing machine, when you did the laundry, you did the laundry and were definitely well soaked as a result!

We lived on a farm with a less than adequate water supply. As the well tended to run dry in the summer, the water in the machine was not always changed between loads. However, Mum had a method. Wash the white things first, then the darks, followed lastly by Dad’s work clothes which were heavy with black marsh soil and the smell of diesel.

From the washer, the clothes were fed through the wringer into a concrete laundry tub with rinse water and then fed through again into a basket. Up the basement stairs this heavy load went and was hung on the clothesline outside.

The last wringer washing machines rolled off the factory lines between 1983 and 1994 as, one by one, each appliance manufacturer saw the industry trends. What about the first wringer washers, they were the answer to the prayers of domestic goddesses everywhere, right?

Not exactly.

Certainly, the task had been an arduous one. Wash day in Victorian times was normally on Monday but the fun actually began on Sunday evening when stained clothing was soaked overnight. The next day was taken up by stirring the family laundry with a paddle in a huge tub filled with hot water and caustic soap. It was an all day extravaganza with one load taking hours to complete.

Improvements did come. A churn washer contained the clothing in a water-filled barrel which could be rotated with a handle but the load capacity was small and hand scrubbing and wringing were still required.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, electric powered washing machines began to be produced. The works of the appliance were on the exterior – unguarded gears, chains and pulleys, uninsulated and non-grounded wires plugged into a light socket. Quite the health and safety nightmare.

The Cataract 1900 Washer was promoted in the Feb. 17, 1915 Northern Advance. The ad placed by D.C. Howard’s shop at 14 Mulcaster St. carried the slogan “She Sits and Sews While the Washer Goes” This appliance could appear in your home “on monthly terms as low as $10” offered another ad. That is roughly $250 in today’s money. Ouch. 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the new-fangled technology, the exorbitant price nor the obvious hazards that were off-putting to potential customers but the feeling that the user, chiefly the lady of the house, would be somehow cheating on her domestic duties if she utilized such a device.

Just before Christmas in 1927, J.H. McCaw at Five Points, exclusive dealer in Beatty Bros. laundry systems, advertised their “Special Christmas Sale” in the Barrie Examiner.

“The Best Gift of All for Mother or Wife. With the Beatty Complete Laundry You Save Them All the Labor of Wash Day” How thoughtful!

This complete outfit included a powered wash tub, a wringer, two galvanized tubs, a folding tub bench, a basket and hamper. This Christmas special offered some free items to be thrown in with purchase. The buyer could choose between a step ladder, ironing board, electric iron, or a clothes dryer – the wooden kind which was a series of boards suspended from the ceiling.

The Beatty brothers, George and Matthew, were the sons of Irish immigrants who started a farm implement business in Fergus, Ontario in the 1870s. After taking over a water pump and washing machine company in 1912, the company moved into the household appliance business in a big way.

Their success was powered, quite literally, by the rapidly increasing electrification of ordinary Ontario households. Beatty Bros. are often credited with popularizing the washing machine in Canada.

The clothes laundering householders of Barrie appear to have gotten over their initial reluctance to allow some fancy piece of machinery to take over their job. I personally very much enjoy pushing a few buttons on my washer and walking away.

Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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