M999.38.1 | Washing machine
1920, 20th century
Gift from Eaton Canada
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Washing machine (2)
Keys to History
For a long time considered to be the worst household chore, laundry previously had taken several days.
In fact, this multi-step chore was so arduous that families who had the means preferred to entrust their laundry and ironing to domestic servants or send out their clothes to a laundry. Work at the laundry also permitted women from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to supplement the family income.
The first attempts at mechanizing laundry took place in the 1890s. In the beginning, there were several machines that each reproduced the different laundry cycles, but all had to be hand operated. During the first decades of the 20th century, electric motors would be added to these machines - an advance that would truly lighten the load for women.
This washing machine carries the inscription "Improved Imperial Washer. T. Eaton Co. Ltd. Canada."
The 1901 catalogue of the Timothy Eaton Co. offered a few models of washing machines ranging in price from $2.50 to $3.65.
It would take many years to discover the ideal material for the tubs of washing machines. After wood in the 1890s, came metal in the 1910s, which was replaced in the 1930s with enamelled steel, a material that had proved that it could stand up to a wide range of temperatures.
Employers (middle-class families) decided only very slowly to buy new household appliances since domestic help was abundant and cheap.