Laundry Implements of Yesteryear
During my teen years, I moved with my family to a farm in rural Wisconsin. The well that provided household water for our farmhouse was shallow. After using water for drinking, food preparation, showering, washing dishes, and more, we often ran out. To help conserve water, my sister and I used a wringer washer to launder our family’s clothes. It was a tedious task but served the purpose. It also taught me to appreciate the convenience of operating an automatic washing machine.
Reflecting on that experience from my youth, I wondered what other laundry implements common ages ago are rarely utilized today for their original purpose. In time, modern conveniences replaced hand tools that required physical effort to clean clothes and linens. Although some of these implements may still be used for their intended purpose, most are repurposed in other ways.
WASHING PADDLE AND POSSER
A washing paddle (commonly called washing bat, beetle, or battledore) is a club-like wooden hand tool used to beat dirt out of wet clothes and linens after washing them in a river, pond, or stream. Utilizing this device for cleaning laundry dates back to ancient times and continued for centuries.
When washing at home became more common during the 18th century, a washing stick called a posser was used to pound and stir textiles in a washtub. During the 19th century, possers (also called dollies, plungers, and other terms) included a longer handle for taller washtubs. It usually contained a conical (sometimes perforated) base to help circulate water, forcing dirt out of laundry.
Some parts of the world still utilize washing paddles or possers to clean clothes and linens. However, most people repurpose these sticks into primitive décor to showcase in their homes. The worn wood from the hands, water, and textiles that touched it time and time again gives the piece unique character.
A washboard is a board with a ribbed surface used to scrub textiles clean. Likely originating in Europe, they worked well with washing paddles or possers to clean textiles. In 1833, Stephen Rust of Manlius, New York, invented the first U.S.-patented washboard. Rust was the first to include a fluted piece of tin, sheet iron, copper, or zinc to a wooden frame.
Most washboards manufactured in the United States during the late 1800s contained a sheet of corrugated zinc attached to a wooden frame. Later, the ribbed surface mainly consisted of glass, porcelain, galvanized steel, brass, or other materials. Today, the Columbus Washboard Company in Logan, Ohio, is the only factory in North America that still manufactures washboards.
Besides utilizing them to clean textiles, many people repurpose them by hanging them on a wall or setting them on a shelf in a laundry room as décor. They also use them as musical instruments. Considered percussion instruments, washboards generate sound by someone rubbing or tapping an object against the ribbed surface.
A soap saver (also called soap cage or soap shaker) is a wire mesh box attached to a metal handle. The box opens to hold soap pieces. When the box is securely closed, it can be shaken in a filled washtub to create sudsy water for washing laundry. A precursor to laundry detergent, soap saver usage was most common during the early to mid-20th century.
Soap savers are rarely utilized today for cleaning laundry. Since they come in a variety of styles, they work well as quirky décor hung on a wall or set on a shelf in a laundry room. Some can also be found with slivers of age-old soap inside.
A sock stretcher (commonly called stocking airer or stocking board) is a wooden or wire form used to stretch socks to prevent them from shrinking after wash. Wet wool socks shrink as they dry so sock stretchers keep them the right size and shape during drying. Wire versions have a wire frame and hollow base. They were primarily needed during the late 19th to early 20th century until synthetic fabrics became popular.
Even now, knitters use sock stretchers (they call them sock blockers) as a form for making newly-knitted socks. More commonly today, they are utilized as décor. Hung on the wall of a laundry room, sock stretchers create a distinctive look. Since they resemble stockings, they are also frequently hung from a fireplace mantel during Christmas.
Although most of these laundry implements are no longer used for their intended purpose, they can be repurposed into décor and enjoyed for years to come. By repurposing, you bring new appreciation to those often-discarded pieces of the past.
Karen Weiss is a freelance writer and enjoys decorating her home with vintage finds from her many collections. She also has an Etsy shop called SimplePatinaFinds.
WorthPoint—Discover. Value. Preserve.