As I write this it’s 4:29 a.m. and I’m cycling a load of wash in our new Maytag. I’m a little agitated and have my stopwatch going.
Why? Three days ago Linda and I were in the basement squinting like safe crackers as we tried to dial up the exact notch that would drop the tumblers to run the spin cycle on our trusty (and rusty) vintage Kenmore. This, plus the fact that the tub was separated from the housing and it leaked, impelled us to purchase a new machine.
Problem is the Maytag’s digital and I’m analog. Just the buzzing, electric sounds of all the sensors going off and on as it measured and adjusted water temperature and levels and ran through its cycles, agitated me.
Had me thinking, “That’s not how a washer’s supposed to sound. Must be something wrong.” Not to mention that I soon discovered a full wash, rinse and spin cycle took about an hour, whereas my Kenmore took 30 minutes.
I went to the Internet and consulted Professor Google on my particular model and found quite a few complaints about the cycle time - as well as general confusion about what settings to use for what.
For me, confusion isn’t quite the right word. More like bewilderment. The kind brought on by too many choices (almost as bad as trying to decide on what brand and flavor of toothpaste to buy).
Washing options included - along with the simple cold, cool, warm and hot water temperature settings - cycles of bulky, power wash, whites, whites with soak, colors, colors with soak, NORMAL, delicates, quick wash, deep water wash and auto sensing wash for clothing that is lightly, regularly or heavily soiled.
I did some more sloshing around on the Internet and I found a woman who’d posted specific directions on what settings to use to run a shorter wash cycle: select lightly soiled, deep water (stay away from auto water sensing) and run it on NORMAL.
So that’s what I’ve done and why I timing it - just entered the rinse cycle and I’m at 26 minutes, 19 seconds and counting.
While waiting I decided to check out some history. The Maytag Corporation originated in 1893 when F.L. Maytag began manufacturing farm implements in Newton, Iowa. Business was slow in winter, so to add to his line of products he introduced a wooden-tub washing machine in 1907.
The 'Pastime' washer had a wooden tub with a hand crank that turned an inside dolly with pegs, which, in turn, pulled the clothes through the water and against the corrugated tub sides. Before that, the only option was soaking and rubbing wash vigorously on a washboard. Previous to that, it was beating it with rocks down at the creek or river.
Improvements on the Maytag came steadily. A pulley mechanism was added so the machine could be operated by an outside power source, and, in 1911, a model with an electric motor was unveiled (it even attached to a pulley that could be used to churn butter).
Three years later, Maytag developed its gasoline engine washer that was a boon to rural homemakers who did not have access to electric power.
I couldn’t find a price on the 1907 washer but the 1930s model sold for $33.50, which works out to about $500 in today’s money, so it was a reasonable price. My 2020 Maytag came in just under $700.
Although a huge improvement over scrubbing clothes on a board, a wringer washer required a person to load, wash, wring out, load, rinse and wring out again before clothes could be transported to the clothesline.
And there was no wash and wear, easy care fabric, or “permanent press,” so there was lots of ironing to do after lugging laundry to the clothesline and back. Lots of women washed on Monday so there’d be plenty of time to mend and iron shirts and dresses for Sunday church services.
Grandma Mary Baima Knoll had a wringer washer in the shanty attached to her garage. I loved to watch the process and help. But I was only allowed on the exit side of the wringer as getting caught in it could produce cuts and broken fingers (grandma had a stick to push it along if it got stuck).
Thus the wringer acquired the nickname "mangler" for what it could do to fabric, buttons and appendages. The process also gave rise to the saying, “Put through the wringer”, as well as a more colorful one about getting not getting a certain female body part caught in one.
Maytag's first automatic washer, the AMP, was introduced in 1949 but it continued to make wringer washers until 1983, with the total number produced 11.7 million.
Grandma continued to use hers until the 1960s, when a coin-operated Laundromat was opened in Frontenac. From then on, helping her meant loading and unloading wash when picking her up and dropping her off in the family station wagon.
Well, my new Maytag came to a stop at exactly 44 minutes, 33 seconds. “Almost 15 minutes longer than the old Kenmore,” I grumbled to myself as I transferred the contents into my adjoining Speed Queen dryer and set it on 40 minutes.
But, as I climbed the stairs to the kitchen, I reflected on what it took for grandma to do laundry - as well as the time and effort she spent drying it on the clothesline. Not to mention all the years she toiled scrubbing grandpa’s filthy coal mining clothes on a corrugated washboard.
So, when I figured up that the difference between using a wringer washer and clothesline versus a Maytag and Speed Queen it came out to about six or seven hours saved. My attitude changed … from grumble to gratitude.
I certainly hope this has enlarged your knowledge and appreciation of this undervalued, labor-saving invention. It surely has mine. Also reminded me that life is good – every last cycle of it.