Washing Day and Household Appliances

Washing day was a big day in the 1940's, as it had been for many decades before. As far as I remember there were no washing machines, so mothers would fill the copper with buckets of water, then get a good wood fire burning under it to bring the water to the boil. Once boiling, in would go the soap flakes and the dirty clothes to bubble away while occasionally being stirred with washing stick, a thing like a thick broom handle.

After they had been boiled for long enough, the wet and steaming clothes, too hot to touch, would be hauled out on the end of the washing stick and dumped into the wash tubs near-by, to be rinsed with cold water and scrubbed on the washing board with good old sunlight soap if still showing any dirty marks, then thrown back in the copper for more boiling. The wash tubs were three or four, deep concrete tubs with a tap, usually connected to a rain water tank.

The scrubbing board was ribbed sheet of thick glass, or metal, in a wooden frame. Clothes could be scrubbed on the glass without abrasion causing too much wear. A labour saving improvement was the introduction of gas boilers to replace the wood fired coppers.

Once cleaned and rinsed, and wrung out by hand, the clothes were hung out on the clothes line to dry, held up by wooden clothes pegs, while the line was lifted to keep the clothes off the ground by means of a clothes prop. The prop was usually a thin wooden sapling with fork at the top to hold the line in place.

After all that hard work, a cup of tea and a few minutes rest for the housewife. At the end of the day, when the clothes are dry, they are taken off the line and folded neatly in preparation for ironing. This then involved 'dampening the clothes' by sprinkling them with water, (either from a bottle or flicking with your hand that had been dipped in a bowl of water) rolling them up in a towel for a few hours and then came the ironing. The first irons were very heavy and were heated on the wood stove. A separate handle was clipped in place to pick up them up.

White Goods, Appliances and Gadgets aplenty started to become available after the War.

Obviously, washing machines were very popular when they first became widely available in the late 1940s. The first ones had a tub agitator and an electric ringer on the side, to squeeze excess water out of the clothes. Oh! What bliss for the work weary housewives on washing day.

Perhaps even more exciting was the arrival of refrigerators a decade or so earlier. Until the late 40's Ice Boxes were the only way for most people to keep food chilled. The ice man used to call around each day delivering blocks of ice, which he carried from his enclosed truck with a pair of steel claws that gripped the block of slippery ice and protected his hands from the cold. The Ice Box or Ice Chest was a wooden cabinet lined with metal and insulated with sheets of thick cork. A drain hole in the metal liner allowed water to escape, while access was through a hinged lid at the top, or doors in front. A bit like a big heavy picnic cooler, and without much more storage capacity. Other than the Ice Box, food that did not need to be kept cold was stored in the Food Safe. This was a cabinet with sides of metal gauze to let fresh air in but keep flies and other insects out. The legs of the food safe stood on little moated bases that contained water mixed with a few drops of kerosene to keep ants out. Some food safes were designed to hang on the verandah, under the house or even out under a tree where they might catch a cool breeze.

You can imagine how popular refrigerators were when they first became available. I can remember when we got our first fridge. It was powered by gas, and we all looked at it in amazement. I remember my mother making ice cream made with condensed milk, and other delicious deserts that she had never been able to make before the advent of refrigeration.

Incidentally, that gas fridge was eventually replaced by a new electric one, but the old gas fridge was converted to kerosene and taken to our island holiday cottage. Here it served for many years until replaced again, but the old fridge was kept as a spare fridge for drinks etc. That original old fridge kept going for thirty years or more, and for all I know, might still be going today. Try and get that life out of a modern fridge. You wouldn't be in the hunt.

Vacuum cleaners came in about the same time as refrigerators.. Prior to that, homes were swept out with brooms or cleaned with mops and buckets and plenty of elbow grease.

Washing Machines, Vacuum Cleaners and Refrigerators might well have been available prior to 1940, but the years of the Great Depression would have placed such items out of the reach of most people. Add to that the uncertainty of World War II and the shortage of manufactured goods for civilians during the War, and it is most likely that these now essential household appliances only became accepted and available when things started to pick up after the War.

To go back to living-family-history from washing day.