1771 Conrad Avenue, San Jose, CA 95124.
The following story is reprinted with permission from the
November, 1987 issue of Appliance Manufacturer, ©1987, Corcoran
Eighty years ago, the Maytag Company manufactured its first
washer, the ‘Pastime’, to offset the seasonality of its
farm machinery business. A hand-cranked dolly with four twirling
wood pegs was positioned under its lid. The dolly pulled the
clothes through the water and against the corrugated sides of a
This labor-saving invention was followed two years later by the
introduction of the ‘Hired Girl’ wringer washer. The washer
replaced hand cranking with a pulley mechanism operated by an
outside power source.
‘Today, we have almost 110 conception of what these
primitive washers meant to the daily lives of housewives,’ says
Susan Martin, a Maytag spokesperson.
‘They were a tremendous improvement over the washboard. But
washdays still meant carrying and heating water, followed by a long
series of rinsings, blueings, and bleachings. Washing clothes was
one of the housewife’s most exhausting chores.’
Steady Stream of Innovations
During its 80 year march to today’s computer-controlled
appliances, Maytag introduced many improvements to its basic washer
The company’s swinging reversible wringer, a 1910 industry
first, simplified rinsing chores in a separate tub. Formerly
stationary, the wringer could be moved to accommodate any variety
of rinse-tub positions.
At one time, the company even made a meat-grinding attachment
that fit over the wringer’s spindle.
Maytag’s 1911 electric-powered model, which eliminated the
hand operation of earlier models, was followed in 1914 with the
unveiling of the industry’s first gasoline-powered washer.
Dubbed ‘the farm woman’s best friend,’ the
‘Multi-Motor’ washer was a godsend in pre-electric rural
areas. The machine’s gas engine was removable and found its way
onto bicycles and farm machinery. In addition, attachments were
available for powering a butter churn, ice-cream freezer, and the
Suds and Salesmanship
SELL WASHERS IN THE 1920s
It was 1924 and 19-year-old Claire Ely was looking for a job in
Minneapolis. He believed he had the initiative and tenacity
required to succeed as a salesman in that depressed economy, if
only he could find the right product to sell.
Ely found the Maytag Co. with its line of
electric-and-gasoline-powered wringer-washing machines.
But what today would appear to be a necessity in most homes was
then a luxury for families saddled with back-breaking scrubbing on
‘Husbands never had a problem with the laundry, because
their wives would do it,’ says Ely.
‘Most times the key to selling was in plotting with
housewives on how they could convince their husbands that the
washer was a necessity.’
With family spending in the early 1920s averaging $ 1,434 a
year, the $ 165 price tag for an electric washer and $200 for one
with a gasoline-powered engine represented a hefty investment.
‘Maytag’s gasoline engine really catapulted us into
rural markets, because very few of those homes had
electricity,’ says Ely.
‘Up until that time, it would take days for a housewife to
do her family’s wash by hand. These washing machines really
liberated the housewife from one of her most exhausting
Ely adds, ‘I would place a washer on loan with a farm family
for a week; and when I went back to pick it up, I’d find the
whole countryside had heard about how wonderful our washer
Like the thousands of Maytag salesmen in the 1920s, Al Murray
peddled the washer house-to-house, strapping the machine on the
back of his Model T Ford. He covered 100 square miles over gravel
roads in Kansas to give an average of 10 free demonstrations every
‘I would chop the wood to heat the water, wash a week’s
worth of clothes for a family, and even hang it on the line. It
became a form of entertainment for the whole neighborhood,’
In the 1920s, about 125 manufacturers were selling washing
machines in the U.S. Maytag salesmen often used theatrics and
imagination to gain attention for their product.
Roy Morris, Escanaba, Mich., would demonstrate Maytag washers at
county fairs and church picnics, any place where housewives
‘On Saturdays, I would strap a washer on the front of my
car, start a load of laundry in it, and drive around town with it
churning away,’ says Morris.
‘I wouldn’t drive more than a block until all the
bicycles in town would’ be following me right back to the store
to see my full demonstration.”
A few years later, Howard Snyder, Maytag’s inventive head
design engineer, accepted a challenge the industry called
‘impossible’. He cast a square, sturdy, lightweight washer
tub out of non-rusting aluminum and gave it rounded corners.
A novel cast-aluminum dolly, located in the lid, turned back and
forth, washing dirt out of the clothes and into a cone-shaped tub
bottom, thus preventing the recirculation of soil.
It was not uncommon to see these square-shaped, aluminum tub
washers strapped to the back of Model T Fords or even on rugged
mules, as Maytag salesmen made their rounds in isolated farm
communities across the country.
By 1922, Snyder and his engineers had come up with another
unique design that replaced the dolly under the lid with a finned
agitator located in the bottom of the washer tub.
‘Gyrator’ blades, with their much gentler action than
that of the top dolly, force water through the clothes instead of
pulling clothes through the water. At this point, the
‘Gyrafoam’ technique became the industry standard.
This trademarked principle of forcing water through the clothes
for removing dirt, now called ‘agitation,’ is still used in
most washers today.
In 1936, Maytag developed its first tub of procelain enamel, a
tough, smooth, durable surface that resisted scratches and
In the 1920s and 1930s, clothes washers were manufactured only
in subtle grays and greens until Maytag began producing a solid
olive green machine in 1936.
Another industry first for Maytag came in 1939 with its
introduction of a line of white appliances.
The first was the ‘Master’ washer, capable of washing 50
percent more clothes than previous models. The washer featured an
improved roller water remover, a damp-drying device that minimized
1907: The ‘Pastime,’ a corrugated wooden tub made of
cypress, is equipped with a hand-cranked dolly under the lid.
1914: The ‘Multi-Motor’ gasoline engine washer is a boon
to home-makers who live on farms or in small towns without access
to electric power.
1922: The ‘Gyrafoam’ agitator principle replaces the top
dolly on the lid with an agitator on the tub’s bottom.
1949: Automatic washing machine is introduced.
1909: The ‘Hired Girl’ washer, complete with wringer,
replaces hand cranking with a pulley mechanism operated by an
outside power source.
1910: Swinging reversible wringer is added to the washer for
1911: Electric-powered model eliminates hand operation of
1919: ‘The washer that couldn’t be built’ is built.
Model 70 is a one-piece, square, cast-aluminum, non-rusting tub
with rounded corners.
1936: Porcelain enamel tub, with a tough, smooth, durable
surface, resists scratches and stains.
1939: ‘Master’ washer is capable of washing 50 percent
more clothes than previous models. Washer production was
discontinued during World War II as Maytag turned to production of