This Is The Way We Wash Our Clothes at RHM

This Is The Way We Wash Our Clothes at RHM

If doing the laundry sounds tedious in 2020, roll the calendar back a hundred years or so.

“Before the invention of the electric washing machine, doing laundry at home was a difficult, slow, two-day and multi-step process,” says Terrilyn Wendling, assistant director/curator of collections at the Rogers Historical Museum and the creator of a new exhibit, “To Do the Laundry.” “Although commercial laundries were available as an alternative to doing this chore at home, they could be expensive. It wasn’t until the invention of the electric wringer washer in 1907 that much of the work in cleaning the laundry was reduced, in both time and labor.”

Wendling says the exhibit was born out of the knowledge that “doing the laundry is one of those chores everyone does and doesn’t necessarily like doing.” But, she adds, “it is a chore that has changed quite a bit as technology has changed. It was the first household chore that inventors tackled, with the first mechanical laundry machine, the ‘Mighty Thor’ invented in 1904 by Alva J. Fisher. In 1907, Maytag came out with their version, and Whirlpool brought theirs to market in 1911.

“After all the clothes were dry, the work was still not done,” she goes on. “Everything, including undergarments, needed to be ironed. Early irons could weigh up to 14 pounds! By 1905, electric irons made getting those wrinkles out a bit easier, but not everyone had electricity to use them. The real breakthrough came with invention of wash-and-wear clothing and the electric dryer, which reduced the need to iron.

“Within the museum collection we have quite a few tools related to laundry, and that is important to creating a good exhibit.”

Visitors, she says, will leave “understanding the amount of work it took, all the steps necessary, to get the laundry clean before the electric washing machine.”

Along the way, Wendling discovered that many of the interventions related to laundry are credited to women. That’s no surprise, she adds. Even now, “laundry is generally a woman’s task.”





‘To Do The Laundry’

WHEN — 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday through March 27

WHERE — Rogers Historical Museum, 313 S. Second St. in Rogers

COST — Free

INFO — 621-1154 or

Categories: Galleries