Let's Talk Rusty Iron

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

| April 2006

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    Left: Putting a polka dot dress through the wringer and into a rinse tub. (Farm Journal, October 1940.)
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    Above: A gasoline-burning iron for those without electricity. Flat irons, often called sad irons, came in sets of three. While one was being used, the other two were heating on top of the stove. There was usually a single handle that could be easily attached and detached from the iron bases. (Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog, Winter 1930-31.)Below: A new, shiny Wardway Gyrator electric washing machine from the Winter, 1930-31 Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog. The machine had an “improved agitator” and a “lifetime copper tub.” Expensive at $74.50, the Wardway could be bought for $5 down and $7.50 a month.
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    Left: Keeping the kitchen stove well-fired on a hot summer day in order to heat the sad irons was murder on the housewife. (Farm Journal, April 1940.)
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    Below: An ad from the turn of the last century for a double-duty washing machine. (Farm Implement News, Dec. 14, 1899.)

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Early laundry processes defined by grueling labor

This doesn't have much to do with Rusty Iron, but it's been a while since I've written anything for my faithful lady readers.

I have a 1920 book called Farm Economy, a Cyclopedia of Agriculture for the Practical Farmer and His Family, with a section titled "A Special Department on Labor Saving Methods for the Housewife." The section starts by pointing out that many improved implements and methods were routinely used by the farmer to ease his labor, but that his home, "which exceeds the field in importance," had not received as much attention.

In 1925 in Ohio, for example, just one in five farms had electricity, and 70 percent of those had their own light plants. Only one in seven Ohio farm homes had running water, while one in nine had a washing machine and a few more had an electric iron. One in three had a gasoline engine, but it's not recorded how many of those were available to the farm wife.

Along with many kitchen and cooking suggestions in the book are laundry hints that will sound strange to modern women raised on automatic washers and dryers, and may bring back not-sofond memories for ladies of a "certain age."



The book recommends a separate room for the laundry, if possible, with running water and all necessary supplies. The author notes that small gasoline engines work well for running the washing machine, pumping water, churning, or turning the cream separator, and says every farm woman should have the use of one.

Power washing machines with a wringer attached are described as being very satisfactory. "With such a washer, clothes may be washed, rinsed and wrung by the machine. It's only necessary to starch and hang up clothes by hand. If it's impossible to have a power washer, at least have a hand washing machine, as they are far ahead of the wash board."



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