Collector puts a shine on 700 antique washing machines
The washers shown here represent roughly half of Lee Maxwell’s collection of restored machines. Those housed in this room are either hand- or foot-operated, using everything from water power to stationary engines, belt-power to treadmill. This room also houses Lee’s collection of Maytags spanning the years 1909 to 1983. Washers in an adjoining room are primarily electric, though some are run by gas engines.
A Scando washer from east Germany, produced in the 1930s.
A salemen’s sample ABC (Altorfer Bros. Co.), and the genuine article. The pair are not an exact match, but close. Lee has several salesmen’s samples in his collection.
A Happy Home steam washer, atop a Jewel Vapoer stove. The washer uses about an inch of water, annd the clothes were tumbled in a steam environment. “I think it did more to sterilize the clothes than to wash,” collector Lee Maxwell says.
An example of a hand-cranked washer with the agitator on the underside of the lid. Lee finds washers on two extended “hunting” trips each year, from coast to coast and border to border.
Double tub washers were popular with big families. The drive mechanisms for this washer’s agitators are reminiscent of the Pitman rods used in hay mowers. In the early days of this century, washing machines were used mainly by the middle class. “The wealthy people sent their stuff to the laundry,” Lee says, “and the poor did their wash by hand.”
The Crystal washer made a noble promise: “To lighten the burden of womankind.”
Some of the old machines contained touches of artistry. The agitator in this Thor Gentle Hand washer features graceful “hands” imprinted with “hand gentleness — machine speed.” A man who sold Thor washers in the 1930s on the dealer’s showroom floor, salesmen amused themselves by painting the hands’ fingernails red.
Lee Maxwell with one of his washers. He also collects electric engineering lab equipment, vacuum cleaners and butter churns.
Dogs and goats were trained to work the treadmills on early washers. One visitor to lee's museum recalled that when she was a young girl, her mother used a goat to power the washer’s treadmill. When the got got tired, the woman said, her mother put her on the treadmill.
No relation to the current owner: “We were really excited to get this one,” Lee said. Some pieces in his collection art donations, including a clothes drier from the 1950s that, when its door is opened, plays a chime version of “How Dry I Am.”
In operation, The Little Giant resembles an amusement park’s Tilt-a-Whirl. It was designed as a machine to wash just “dainties.” Lee has several compact, table-top washers in his collection. “For a while after World War II, this was all you could get,” he says.