Washing machine tops the wish list

Ruth Griffiths

One of the first things we bought for our first house  was a portable washing machine. You rolled it up to the kitchen sink and attach a hose to the faucet to fill the tub on the left where you washed the clothes. The dirty water drain into the sink. Then you lifted the clothes into the tub on the right which spun water out of the clothes. They were fairly dry by that time and easy to hang on the line to dry completely.

Two decades later while we were vacationing in Cuba, we visited a store where the featured item was the same type of washing machine. Our Cuban friend told us that it was the most popular purchase when people could scrape together enough money.

Today much more elaborate washing machines are considered essential but a century ago most laundry was done by hand. Just ask Grandma about scrubbing on a washboard!

According to Wikipedia, a washing machine design was published in 1767 in Germany. In 1782, Henry Sidgier was issued a British patent for a rotating drum washing machine. In 1797, Nathaniel Briggs received the first US patent for his invention. His creation was his wife’s birthday present.

Romance artists painted scenes of groups of women washing their clothes in a stream. Laundry day might have been a rare opportunity to gossip with the neighbours, but it was cold, back-breaking work.

My mother’s first wringer-washer on the farm was powered by propane. Water was heated on the stove to fill the wash tub.  Square metal wash tubs were balanced on kitchen chairs for rinsing the clothes after they were passed through the wringer to expel the dirty, soapy wash water.

Even as a young child, while I watched my mother hanging heavy laundry on the line in freezing weather, I vowed never to do that job. By the time my first baby arrived, I had an electric washing machine and natural gas dryer for laundering the piles of wet and dirty diapers that tiny baby created.

It’s no surprise that families around the world purchase washing machines as soon as their economic situation improves. What will laundry day look like for my grandchildren when they become parents?