Many implements used in the laundry before the electric washing machine are becoming rare and collectable. These include the washing dolly, which was a long stick with base resembling a wooden stool and a crossbar at the other end. The dolly was held by the crossbar and thrust up and down to agitate the washing. The posser was a similar device except that the wooden “stool” was replaced by a perforated metal cone.
Another important implement was the corrugated washboard, made of wood, glass or metal. It was stood at the side of the tub, or sometimes incorporated into the tub, for scrubbing clothes.
The first laundry machine was the box mangle (“wringer” in Australia and the United States), invented in the 17th century. This was a massive device, up to two metres across, consisting of heavy wooden rollers around which wet clothes were wrapped and a box filled with heavy stones which was moved back and forth over the rollers to squeeze the clothes dry.
The domestic mangle, or clothes wringer, was invented in the mid-18th century. These has two, or sometimes three, wooden rollers between which wet clothes were squeezed dry. Pressure was applied by a set of springs and an adjustable screw of lever with weights.
The first washing machines were wooden boxes which were rocked back and forth. This was no more effective than using a washing dolly. In the 1850s, machines resembling butter churns were introduced. These continued to be produced until the 1920s.
Electric washing machines were invented early in the 20th century but remained too expensive for most households until the 1950s.
Flat irons came into use in the 17th century. Early irons were of tow types: sad irons (a corruption of “solid”) and box irons. Sad irons were heated on a stove or stood close to a fire. they came in pairs so that one could be used while the other was being heated. Box irons had a compartment into which a hot metal “slug” was placed. They were supplied with two slugs and a pair of tongs for inserting and removing them. Soap or beeswax was applied to the bases of both types of irons to make them easier to use.
Box irons were gradually superseded by charcoal irons into which hot charcoal or embers were placed. They had holes, and sometimes a spout, to allow fumes to escape and oxygen to enter to keep the embers smouldering.
Towards the end of the 19th century, several types of irons which were heated by burring fuel in the iron were introduced. The fuels used included paraffin, naphtha, petroleum, methylated spirits, alcohol and even vegetable oil. Gas irons, which were connected to the gas supply by a flexible hose, and electric irons were also introduced at about this time. Early electric irons were heavy, awkward and expensive and only gradually became popular. (Sad irons were still being manufactured in the 1950s.)