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October 25, 2020

The “1900” Gravity Washer, a Six-Minute Washing Machine That Every Woman Will Have When She Knows It

This state of the art washing machine boasted that a woman could do a load in six minutes by simply sitting and turning the crank handle. To encourage sales, mail order catalogs allowed potential buyers to order one at no cost and test it in their homes for a month. The upscale combination washer-dryer model included a hand-operated wringer.

Six minutes, by the clock, and your tubful of dirty clothes is spotlessly clean. And by using hardly a tenth of the strength that you must expend washing any other way.

In its day, the Gravity Washer was considered a labor-saving device! The very simple but effective mechanism found under the drum provided a back and forth, oscillating motion while at the same time causing the drum to move vertically up and down. The source of power was typically the woman of the house. The operator would sit beside the machine and, using the handle on the side of the drum, would rotate the drum back and forth. If you were to examine the movement of the water as it circulated through the clothes in the tub, you would see little difference when compared with a modern day machine.

The biggest difference would be the source of power—electrical power with temperatures and times regulated by small computer chips, versus the common sense, manually-operated machines of the 1800s. Around 1920 the washer got an upgrade with the addition of an electric motor under the drum area. While this provided a more convenient power source, it also created a significant danger. Leaking water often caused a short circuit and, sadly, fatal injuries were not uncommon.

Even though modern washing machines bear little resemblance to the Model 1900 Gravity Washer, the basic process is the same. Warm water is circulated around and through the clothing, soap is introduced to float the solids from the fabrics, and gravity pulls the particles downward so they can be rinsed away.

Here are some ads of the “1900” Gravity Washer from the 1900s:

(via Greene-Dreher Historical Society)


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