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Washday changes

January 8, 2012
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

Washday, without question, claimed a major portion of the Adirondack day, especially before electricity found its way into the Adirondack settlements. Housewives were expected to keep the clothes and bedding clean from those labor-intensive woodland jobs. In most homes, washday consumed one day a week, usually on Monday. (Remember, they had to tie the dogs up Sunday so they would be available to walk the washing machine dog treadmill Monday.)

Buying a "washing machine" at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s required going to the Sears, Roebuck catalog or the Montgomery Ward and Co. catalog to purchase a wash boiler for less than two dollars. I have a couple of those old oval copper tubs with the wooden handles. They measure about two feet long, one foot wide, and one foot deep. The catalogs list them as 11 and 1/2 inches by 22 and 1/2 inches.

Better ways of washing clothes had evolved from the mid 1800s. A wider wooden washboard had evolved from the washing sticks. Washboards with a pottery scrubber gave way to the zinc-faced washboard, the glass washboard and a brass washboard. The wooden washboard gave way to the tin and copper oval-shaped wash tubs to be used on the new coal ranges. Washing sticks of many shapes, sizes and designs were used to stir the clothes and to remove them from the hot water.

Commercial washing products appeared on the market to take advantage of the demand for an easier method of getting the clothes clean. "Wash Day is Joy Day when you use SWISH," they advertised. SWISH was the "great washing wonder of the age!" It washed the clothes without rubbing - saved time, labor, soap and money. The clothes were whiter and cleaner than ever before - "making wash day a pleasure!" What more could an Adirondack housewife want?

The SWISH box told the story-"just boil the clothes-that's all." "Every housewife knows the hardships of wash day-a day of worry, fretfulness, and fatigue," they printed. Little wonder that the housewives purchased the "scientific combination of nature's greatest cleaning elements." Three teaspoonsful of SWISH made suds, the clothes were rinsed in cold water after 20 minutes and then hung out to dry. No washboards were required, and the family size box, over two pounds of SWISH, cost only 50 cents per package.

Other products came along to make life easier on washday. Zanol Concentrated Bluing made the clothes snowy white, free from streaks, spots and discolorations. Oriental Perfumed Starch Enamel Tablets dissolved in the starch and imparted a glossy, satiny finish to linens, shirts, collars and cuffs. Wizard Laundry Tablets, much like SWISH, washed clothes in the boiler tub making rubbing clothes on a washboard, "out-of-date." And, Zanol Renual Spot Remover took the place of dangerous gasoline for all cleaning purposes.

We have come a long way from the copper wash tubs to today's automatic washers - are the clothes any cleaner?



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