Animal treadmill that powered a washing machine
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    Auction Finds

    A bit monstrous, but these machines made chores easy

    I was walking among the furniture and other large tabletop items at the auction house when I came upon a display of oversized machines. There were about a half-dozen wood and iron contraptions – one of them was a clothes wringer – so I assumed they were all antique washing machines.

    I was way off on most them – just as the auction house itself. Several were butter churns, and the auction house had listed them as washing machines in its catalog descriptions. This was to be expected, since all were a far cry from their counterparts today; churns are not even necessary anymore.

    washing machines

    These were the only two washing-related machines among the group of antique items for sale. The others were butter churns.

    All were hand-cranked, and they included a clothes wringer, washing machine and butter churns. On a table nearby was a small wooden mop wringer. Most of the machines were monstrously big and overpowering, but I still found them fascinating in their unfamiliarity.

    The auction house had grouped them together, and they made an impression on many of us who came across them. These were among the items that stopped us auction-goers. Could you have guessed what they were?

    clothes wrinter

    “Heffron Co.” clothes wringer.


    This wringer bore the nameplate “The Heffron Co.” It was likely made by a company in Syracuse, NY, that appeared to have made a little bit of everything in its plant, including clothing, furniture, beauty supplies, housewares and appliances, according to a trade catalog inventory at the  Ohio State University Libraries.

    The wringer came with text on the side (“This wringer has steel ball bearings, same as are used in high grade bicycles”), along with several patents years, the earliest of which was the 1880s for its “Improved Guide Board.”

    washing machine

    “High Speed Wizard” washing machine.

    “High Speed Wizard” washing machine. This 1912 Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog page shows a woman sitting as she operated the machine.


    butter churn

    The auction house listed the yellow machine as a washing machine, but it’s likely a butter churn.

    This was advertised by the auction house as a “yellow painted wood washing machine.” I suspect that it is a butter churn, just as the wooden one in the foreground.

    butter churn

    “Star” butter churn.

    This barrel butter churn with stand was made by the J. McDermaid Co. of Rockford, IL. This was the “Star” churn that was said to perhaps have been made for Sears, Roebuck and Co. McDermaid made four churns with their own names at a time when farmers had to separate sweet cream from milk to make butter. The finished product was put in stoneware crocks for town folks and taken to nearby markets for local sale.

    In the Star churn, the barrel was turned until the butter formed. The smallest size, a 5-gallon, sold for $2.85 in the 1896 Sears catalog. The auction house advertised it as a “Star barrel form washing machine,” and that’s what I thought it was, too.

    mop wringer

    The “White” mop wringer.

    Commonly known as the “White,” this mop wringer was first made in a “small wooden building” in Jamaica, VT. The company later became the White Mop Wringer Manufacturing Company based in Fultonville, NY. The company began making wooden mop wringers in 1893. The mops could easily be attached to either a wooden or iron pail, as noted in a 1911 trade publication.

    butter churn

    Two bright yellow butter churns.

    These yellow barrel churns overtook a table at the auction house. They were made by Hall Brothers of Huntington, NY, (left) and Kendall & Whitney of Portland, ME.


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