Wringer washing machine leads to black female inventor
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    Auction Finds

    Antique washing machine that keeps on selling

    Bet you’re glad you don’t have to use one of these, the auctioneer said as I stood there looking at an old-style washing machine. He was right, but that wasn’t what was on my mind.

    I had seen an identical machine in this same spot on the rear dock at this same auction house not too long ago. I was wondering if this was the same one and no buyer wanted it.

    Didn’t you sell a machine like this two weeks ago, I asked. Yes, he said. In fact, this was the third one he’d had, the auctioneer said. The first one sold for about $180, the second for about $140, and the third for less than $100. When something sells well, he said, other buyers figure it must be worth something.

    wash1

    An up-close view of the copper Easy washing machine at auction.

    It goes to show you that everything sells at auction, he noted. That’s something I learned pretty soon after I started going to auctions some time ago. Buyers won’t let anything get away from them; it’s not often that anything gets a pass. They’re thinking that somebody might be willing to pay $3 or $5 for an item they bought for a buck.

    The antique washing machines were big and heavy, with a copper exterior and a dark patina. The first one I saw two weeks ago had a winged medal partially hidden inside under the agitator, which looked like three large overturned aluminum soup bowls. I pulled it out and saw that it was a Nazi medal.

    When I returned later, the medal had disappeared. I’m not sure if the auctioneer had removed it or it had been stolen. Stuff does get lifted without payment.

    wash2

    A full view of the second Easy washing machine at auction.

    It had been awhile since I’d seen an antique or vintage washing machine at auction. A couple years ago, I came across a beautiful bright yellow Westinghouse machine. Even then, I overheard a man joking with his female companion about the hard work implicit in such early machines.

    During the research on that machine, I learned that Ellen F. Eglin, an African American woman living in Washington, DC, invented what some sites described as a successful clothes wringer in the 1880s. Unfortunately she sold her design to an agent for $18.

    She said in Woman Inventor magazine in 1890 that she sold it for one reason: “You know I am black and if it was known that a Negro woman patented the invention, white ladies would not buy the wringer. I was afraid to be known because of my color in having it introduced into the market.”

    wash3

    The wringer and agitators on the second Easy washing machine I saw at auction.

    The wringer on the machine at auction bore the name “Easy.” When the machine was first introduced, I’m sure it made the drudgery of clothes-washing a little easier for women. But now, when you can drop your clothes in an automatic machine and let it do the work, “Easy” doesn’t seem so revolutionary. And many women, like my grandmother, still relied on their old black pots with scalding hot water.

    The machine was made by the Syracuse Washing Machine Corp. in New York, whose origins go back to the late 19th century under another name. The business had its slow years and its peak moments, with the best coming during the 1920s. It was said to be the greatest producer of home laundry equipment in the world at that time.

    Around 1932, the company changed its name again to Easy Washing Machine Corp., and changed hands over the ensuing years. The company closed in 1963.

    The company appeared to have heavily advertised its products (it also made ironers). I found several early newspaper ads touting its washing machines over the years. One eBay seller was asking $42 for a photo promoting a demonstration of an Easy machine at a fair in New Jersey in 1921. On the back of the truck in the photo appeared to be a copper machine like the one at auction.

    wash4

    This was the second Easy washing machine I had seen at the auction house in two weeks.

    Here’s another ad for the twin-tub Spindrier from 1945, and a 1955 TV commercial for an Easy automatic washer and dryer on the Arthur Godfrey Time show, which the company sponsored.

    The machine at auction may have been from the 1920s. One like it sold for $200 at Florida auction house that described it as a vacuum electric washing machine made in the 1920s.

    I wasn’t around when the Easy machine was sold, but I’m sure that it did. I found them for sale on eBay for up to $495; one sold for $253 and a dusty, bent and dented copper lid sold for $150.

    I wonder how they are being used – as collectibles? How would you use it?

     

     

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    4 Comments

    1. I know I’m a little late to the party, but the model pictured is a model M, one of the relatively plentiful models of the ’20’s. I have one and use it from time to time. The plungers create a shock wave in the water and when they lift again a minor vacuum is formed under the plungers. The pressure wave pushes the clothes aside so the action is deceptively gentle yet thorough. It is not quiet since the action is quite vigorous. I assume that a rotary agitator’s allowing greater ease in loading and unloading clothes is the primary reason for its demise. But it had maybe a 30 year run, so not a failure per se.

      I do, indeed use it occasionally for large delicate items, in particular a full set of 8 foot tall draperies that would otherwise have to be dry cleaned. They come out spotless with nary any rounding of the pleated tops nor stress at the seams. Without tangling. You keep the wash water and do a houseful on one detergent load. Ringers are sort of okay for durable items but I send the draperies to a toploader automatic for spin.

      They made a dual tub model with a high speed spinner on the side in order to get away from the shortcomings of wringers. I just picked up one of those for fun. It’s a model R. Just imagine going from washboards and hand wringing to something like the Easy with the spinner/extractor. From the perspective of an adult of 1920, “easy” is not that much of a stretch.

      Thanks for an interesting article.

    2. I remember moving to Fort Worth and the very first washing machine we had was a model, a bit like the one in the photo with the roller on top, but a much later brand. I don’t remember much about it other than rinsing the clothes on the roller and then hanging everything outside on a clothesline to dry. Loud was it? Yes. Would I collect one today? No.

      Once you’ve been there, done that, the only way a machine like THAT would enter my house is in a form of an ice machine.

      • Ice machine? That’s an interesting use of the washing machine. I can imagine it as a conversation piece filled with ice, beer and sodas at a cookout. Sherry

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