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July 28, 2013

Historical treasure: The James Washer helped ease work of doing laundry

TERRE HAUTE — The woman who owned a James Washer in the early 20th century must have considered herself lucky because she no longer had to use a washboard.

The washday wonder on display in the Vigo County Historical Museum was manufactured in Louisville, Ky. Its well-worn metal tub has a lid and a pendulum agitator. It stands on sturdy wooden legs and has a faucet on the side for easy draining.

To get the clothes really clean, the user let the wash load soak in hot, soapy water for a few minutes and swished the pendulum agitator by hand.

The attached wringer has stainless steel ball bearings, the same as used in bicycles, which were from the Blue Grass Ball Bearing Company. The instructions engraved on the wringer advise the owner to oil the bearings before and after each washing, and to loosen the top spokes when the washer is not in use.

The wording on the wringer is hard to read, but it indicates that the wringer was a product of the Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company of Louisville, Ky. The wringer has a hand crank to get the water out of the clothes.

This historical treasure may be seen in the tool room in the lower level of the museum. It was donated by Jack and Nancy Ross in memory of Mary Elizabeth Ross (b.1881-d.1943), along with two Speed Queen wash tubs, circa 1925-1935.

If you see the James Washer and decide you’d like one like it, worry not. Companies still make James Washers with a 17-gallon capacity, using up-to-date materials. The hand wringer (sold separately) has maple bearings that don’t have to be lubricated.

Because of heavy demand, you may have to wait more than eight weeks to receive yours.

Historical Treasure

• The Vigo County Historical Society’s museum is at 1411 S. Sixth St. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through


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    March 12, 2010