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When ‘Wash Day’ and Maytag Were Synonymous

Old Maytag washing machines were an integral part of the weekly laundry routine.

| May 2017

  • Early Maytags had a simple clutch rod on the right front leg.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • All Maytag washers had a serial number clearly stamped on the top front corner of the tub. The lowest number on the washers I found was 528,169; the highest was 844,249.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • Later models had a clutch rod with a knob and indicator on the left front leg.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The vaned agitator was the heart of the washer. This one was apparently used for target practice on an abandoned farm site.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • If you are looking for an old Maytag washer, you might find one like this in a tumble-down farm outbuilding.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • We prepared this breakfast recently on a Maytag washing machine lid over a campfire.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard

The one name that immediately comes to mind when there is a discussion about washing clothes in the early days is Maytag. Through the years there were many, many attempts to mechanize the home laundry process, but it wasn’t until the second decade of the 1900s that one washing machine basically became the standard.

In 1924, one of every five washing machines sold in the U.S. was the square aluminum Maytag with its revolutionary vaned agitator and powered wringer.

There are probably hundreds of people who know more about early Maytag washing machines than I do. However, only a few have spent more time actually using one. Raised in a family with two older brothers, we “youngsters” were expected to step in and do jobs as soon as we were old enough. We often complained we were the only boys in our small town with dishpan hands. We took our turns in front of the sink as soon as we were tall enough to see over it while standing on a stool made specially for that purpose.

You have to be at least 50 years old to know that Monday was washday. Ask younger people what Mondays were special for and they will look at you with blank stares. Every Monday, the washing machine and two galvanized washing tubs took center stage in our kitchen. All were filled with water and the weekly laundry process commenced, aided by reluctant small male helpers.

Old Maytag still on the job in the 1980s

When my parents got married in the 1930s, they bought a white porcelain Kenmore washer. By the time I came along, that had worn out and my mother reverted to the square Maytag washer that had been used on the farm where she grew up. Originally it had a gasoline engine (electricity had not yet arrived on the farm). It was later converted to an electric engine so it could be used in the kitchen instead of outside on the porch, where it was originally used. (If there is a guard over the drive belt, it was manufactured with an electric engine. If the drive belt is exposed – like on ours – it had been converted from the original gasoline engine.)

Initially, as the smallest kid, I couldn’t reach the clothesline, so one of my jobs was to carry the heavy, wet clothes into the backyard where my older brothers pinned them up. When dry, they would be piled so high on me that I could barely see where I was headed on my return to the house. By then, of course, the tubs had been dumped and the Maytag washer drained by lowering the hose that hung on the side into a bucket.


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