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Washboards | Vintage laundry washing boards & machines

Updated on June 12, 2013
Traditional wooden wash tubs with washboards.
Traditional wooden wash tubs with washboards.
Old vintage galvanized washboards
Old vintage galvanized washboards
Handmade washboard
Handmade washboard
Another handmade washboard design
Another handmade washboard design
Vintage glass washboard
Vintage glass washboard
Washing machine progressed from tubs on the floor to tubs with legs.
Washing machine progressed from tubs on the floor to tubs with legs.
Manual Washing Machine using wooden tub
Manual Washing Machine using wooden tub
Early Maytag Wringer Washer
Early Maytag Wringer Washer
Maytag Wringer Washer used up until the mid 1900s and still being used by the Amish
Maytag Wringer Washer used up until the mid 1900s and still being used by the Amish
New Glass Washboard
New Glass Washboard
New Brass Washboard
New Brass Washboard
New Stainless Washboard
New Stainless Washboard
Still made with the finger jointed construction
Still made with the finger jointed construction

Washboards are still being manufactured in the US just as they were in the 1700s - 1900s

Old fashioned washboards have been used for centuries.

Surprisingly even today with all the advances in modern automated washing machines, washboards are still being used in the US and around the world.

No one really knows who developed or when the concept of the old fashioned washboard was first used.

Antique stores and old advertisements give us some hints.

Historical archives also provide snapshots of the emergence of the washboard over time.

It was just probably one of those practical inventions born out of a basic necessity that evolved over time.

As people tried to figure out an easier and quicker way to do their laundry, the washboard reached a design acceptance.

This basic design has remained basically unchanged since the 1800s.

In vintage times doing the laundry was a very labor intensive all day event.

There was no simple dropping items into a machine and multi-tasking on to other projects.

Some history points to the late 1700s of when the washboard was first invented.

We know as long as people wore clothing they had to have some way of washing them.

It’s just who and when they first decided to rub clothes being washed up and down a board or log.

The rubbing concept would then later inspire someone to development the washboard.

Many clothes were washed at the side of a stream or pond.

Before the washboard idea was discovered rocks and logs were used to beat out dirt and stains.

As the rubbing concept became more widely used, people made crude hand carved rubbing boards or rubbing logs and then used them at stream side.

Later they were used in wooden troughs and tubs that later evolved into laundry tubs filled by buckets from a hand pump well or cistern.

US patents began to be issued on washboards in the late 1700s.

The familiar metal and glass washboards began receiving patents in the middle 1800s into the early 1900s.

Earlier washboards were just slabs of wood with carved notches across them to provide a rubbing surface.

Different cultures, and regions developed their own spin on the design of a washboard.

We even found some old washboards in an antique store that we have never seen before even in pictures. These were handmade using wire loops embedded into the wood.

Most view a washboard just as an antique wall hanging or a popular musical instrument.

The fact is washboards are still being made in the US to wash clothes just as they were used in the earlier centuries.

You may ask why, and who is buying them to still wash clothes?

One of the top 20 items on a disaster preparation list will likely list a washboard.

There’s a lot of people preparing to live without electricity or the modern conveniences such as a washing machine.

Whether it’s a human or a Mother Nature caused disaster, the potential of having to live without electricity for long extended periods or indefinitely is a very real and imminent concern for many groups.

Washboards are still being used as emergency and for off-grid use as well as the normal way to wash clothes in many locations around the world.

Many missionary groups traveling to assist or supplying goods into third world countries provide washboards as part of a CARE package.

Campers and backwoods primitive cabin homesteaders are also likely to keep a washboard handy for washing clothes the old fashioned way.

You will find them at work in living history museums teaching kids hands on what life was like before modern day appliances.

They are even handy to have in a modern day laundry room to get out tough grass and grease stains.

In a nutshell even a modern day washing machine still uses the ancient method of pounding clothing fabric against a solid surface. It just uses the ribs in the drum or an agitator to do so behind or underneath the door or lid.

The only thing that has really changed is the water flows in and out automatically.

The finished load is also spun dried to remove the excess water taking away that part of manual labor.

Manually hand washing also required the clothes to be rubbed or pounded against a fixed object to work in the detergents and to release the soiled particles.

The clothes then had to be wrung to remove the excess water.

The invention of the laundry wringer helped immensely to remove the excess water.

Today excess water is extracted by centrifugal force created by a high speed spin inside the washing machine tub.

As people became more accustomed to standard homes laundry was done in washtubs equipped with washboards.

Many did laundry right in the kitchen area where hot water could be added from a cook stove.

Outside porches were also used for laundry, and even some homes had an adjacent wash house.

Early washing machines added legs to wash tubs and fixed washboards along with a hand crank wringer.

These early inventions were a welcomed breakthrough in washing clothes.

It no longer required constant bending over in order to scrub, and then picking up an hand wringing out the clothes.

As the washing machine evolved the washboard was finally replaced with a hand operated agitator. However, the wringer stayed as standard equipment up until even in the middle 1900s.

Earlier extractors were invented, but the old wringer washers were so well built people hung on to them for as long as they could. They are still being used today in the Amish communities.

The advances in washing machines also didn’t really take off until the end of World War II. During the war efforts all manufacturing efforts were directed to supplying the troops.

Except maybe in the Amish communities wringer washers are not being manufactured today. Interesting though washboards are still being manufactured.

A lot of the washboards are currently manufactured for decorative or musical purposes only.

Consequently the cheaper construction using pine and galvanized barn siding make them look like the old fashioned ones. However, to actual use one in water for clothes washing is not recommended.

The old fashioned washboards were mainly made from popular hardwood and contained either a Zink, galvanized, brass or glass wash surface.

The wooden frame surrounding the wash surface used finger jointed construction. This held the frames together under constant soaking wet conditions.

The panel that often carried the manufactures stamped logo held small items used in the wash process such as a bar of lye or ivory soap and a lemon wedge handy.

Washboards that are still being made using the same old fashioned construction techniques from the 1800s.

The traditional or family size is approx 13” wide and 24” long. A mini size is generally made for cute decorative purposes and they run approx 5” x 10” long.

In early times people would pack the mini size in a suite case to travel and wash clothes.

A really hard to find pail size measures approx 9” wide x 18” wide and as you might of guessed it fits nicely into a pail of water that would be very handy for quick spot removal or for remote camping.

You can purchase the usable old fashioned laundry washboards including the pail size at such back-to-basic sites like Cottage Craft Works .com


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