We were at the Prince William County Fair last week, taking our usual turn through the exhibits and displays, when we came up this object among the display of old farm implements. I had never seen anything like it, and first surmised it was a kind of two-person butter churn, with one person on each handle on either side. But it didn’t look like a butter churn, and so, curious about what it was, I posted the picture on Facebook, asking my FB friends if anyone could identify it. Two of them could: it’s a manually operated clothes washer. The clothes go in through the lid, water is added, and more than likely, a plunger is inserted through the hole in the top to agitate the clothes. It’s a sight better than beating your laundry on river rocks!
It struck me that this was an ingenious way to at least bring some degree of mechanization to the clothes washing process. I don’t know how well it worked–maybe not so well because you don’t see that many of these (or at least I haven’t–maybe habitees of antique shops and shows are familiar with them). I had heard of washing machines powered by gasoline (my father’s family had one) and kerosene. If you don’t have electricity, it’s an ingenious solution, made right at home.