“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.” –Phyllis Diller
In part 1 and 2 of this series, we explored the reasons why no one likes doing housework (the dreaded H word), but the fact is, housework is much easier today than it has ever been, thanks to technology. But how did this technology evolve, and how far have we come? What inventions changed the H word landscape over the years?
Let’s explore a few inventions from the 19th Century. Oooh wee… Girls we never had it so good:
The Mop: In the 19th century, people would get on their hands and knees to clean the floors. This was quite hard on the knees and backs. Since the floor was always the area that got most dirty, diseases would fester and cause health problems. Thomas Stewart, an African-American from Kalamazoo, Michigan, came up with a great idea to address this problem, inventing the mop in 1893, (U.S. Patent #499, 402). The first mop had a head that could be wrung out, draining the water, and then un-clamped when it was dirty so one could replace the old head with a clean one. The mop had a dual purpose, to create a simpler way for people to clean the floors and to help maintain a healthier environment. Today we have the Swifter, with a disposable pad and a push button that sprays a cleaning solution on the floor. You just keep spraying and wiping the floor with the pad. It’s so easy to mop that you don’t even have to do any wringing at all. You simply remove the dirty pad without damaging a bit of your seventy-five dollar nail polish design while your floor gets cleaned. There are a large variety of sponge mops, cloth mops and other floor cleaning tools that have cloth pads, which you can throw into the washing machine and reuse.
The Carpet Sweeper: Cleaning carpets was no easy task in the 19th century. Carpets were rolled off the floor and hung up to be beaten with a carpet beater. When the carpet sweeper was invented in 1876, carpet cleaning became much easier. Thanks to Melville Bissell’s wife’s constant complaining, with regards to her distaste of cleaning the floors of her husband’s shop, Melville Bissell decided to try to make this task easier. In this case, the complaining produced a benefit, because if she didn’t do the carpets, he would have had to hire someone else or do the job himself. Ugh! So he decided to invent something. He obtained a patent in September of 1876 for the first “automatic carpet sweeper.” A sweeper was composed of a sealed dust pan with two pairs of wheels linked by brush rolls. As the user would push this apparatus along the floor, the brush rolls would rotate and sweep up the dust and debris. Every so often, the user would remove the dust pan and empty it. I could just see Mrs. Bissell jumping with joy while clapping her hands and smothering her husband with a thousand kisses. I’m sure Mr. Bissell was also grinning from cheek to cheek. It was a good way to stop her bitching, at least until she found something else to be disgruntled about. I can just picture him saying: “Whew… what a relief, silence at last.” Isn’t it amazing that this invention is still being used today? According to historical resources, In 1883, Bissell constructed his first manufacturing factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When Melville died in 1889, his wife took over the business as Chief Executive Officer until she died at the ripe old age of 87. The sweeper has never fell completely out of use. Many households continue to use them today for small cleanup tasks. Thanks to modern technology, carpet sweepers are rechargeable today. They run on batteries for easy use. There is a large variety of sweepers to pick from, including electric brooms. Today, the manual brooms are still being used, especially when you need to chase away free-loaders. So Ladies, you don’t have to hurt your backs by bending and using the dust pan and broom anymore.
The Washing Machine: Before the Washing machine was invented, women would haul their laundry down to the river. They would beat the laundry against the rocks in a stream, or beat them with the use of a laundry bat, stone or board. This was the ancient way of getting the dirt out of the clothes. You could also put them in a wooden wash tub and trample on them with bare feet. The wet clothes would then be draped over lines or hung over bushes and rocks to dry in the hot sun. During the Victorian era, attics were used for hanging laundry. However, most clothes had to be wrung out by hand. Then along came the wringing machines in the mid-eighties. This consisted of two rollers and a hand crank. The clothes would be slipped in between the rollers and pressed with the hand crank to remove the excess water. There was no such thing as permanent press, so all clothing had to be ironed once they dried. This is where the flat-iron came in. It would be placed on the kitchen range to be heated. Of course, one had to have several of them going at the same time, since they cooled quickly. The Ironing board was supported by two chairs or a table and chair. This set up was commonly used in the 19th century. An ironing blanket would be wrapped around the board, then topped with a cotton sheet, which had to be changed and washed when soiled.
Alva Fischer, a native of Chicago during the late 1800s after finishing High School, wanted to invent something. His mother suggested that he should create something that would help her around the house. He decided to invent a better washing machine. Using his mother’s existing wash tub, he attached electric pumps to bring the water in and out, then he attached an agitator to the motor along with the wringer so that there was no hand cranking effort required. His first model was unveiled in 1905. After certain drawbacks, wringers remained a part of washing machines until after World War II. The machine worked well enough for Fisher to sell the design to the Westinghouse Corporation. In 1924 the Savage Arms Corporation redesigned its washing machine in order to take full advantage of electricity. As a result, the finished product became the first washing machine that resembled modern washers. Since the 1924 design, the basic washing machine design and function have not changed. I could still see my mom bent over the tub with her wash board and a pile of dirty clothes by her side. Mom always took pride in how clean her clothes looked. She never made an attempt to purchase a washing machine to make her life easier. She would rather complain about how rough her life was than accept change.
The Vacuum Cleaner: As to who invented the vacuum cleaner, there is some disagreement. Some historians give credit to John S. Thurman, in 1899, while others say H.C. Booth invented it in 1901. Regardless of who invented it, it certainly made housework faster and easier. I’d be lost without my Kenmore canister. Today’s vacuums have disposable bags that are discarded when they become full. Attachments of all sorts are connected to these vacuums for hard to reach places and upholstery. The market is flooded with a wide range of improved models that exist today so you have many choices.
There you have it ladies, I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg, but you can see how modern technology has made the H word much easier today. There are no shortage of helpful household appliances in the 21st century. So, if one day “Mimi Cleans” comes knocking at your door offering her services, will you say: “Sure, I’ll take you up on your offer,” or will you surprise me and say, “No thanks, it’s just too easy to do housework these days!”