Hanging on the wall in our laundry room at home is a tool or appliance that is not used much anymore. It is a simple tool that doesn't have any gears, wires, batteries or computer chips. It is environmentally friendly because it doesn't use electricity or fossil fuel. Sounds like a good appliance and one that should be used more - maybe.
Let's take a closer look at this appliance. It is called a "wash" or some say "scrub" board. Yes, it does take energy - human energy and lots of good old "elbow grease." Now you know why it isn't used much today. Some are still used in the Amish communities, but the rest of us tend to find other ways to wash clothes.
Betty keeps ours hanging above her automatic washer to remind her that we have a lot to be thankful for these days. Now she doesn't have to get a tub of hot water, a bar of good soap to rub on the clothes and rub them up and down on the washboard until they are clean, then rinse them.
Instead, she can open her washer, start the water, add soap and bleach or other cleaners, put in her clothes, shut the lid and go fix lunch or what ever else she wants to do. When the timer rings, she takes them out and pops them in the dryer.
That's a far cry from using the washboard with hand labor, rinsing by hand, squeezing the clothes as dry as possible and hanging them on the outside line. Or maybe on some kind of rack behind the cook stove when the temperature approaches zero and the winter winds blow fiercely. I'm told those wooden clothes pins don't go on the line easily when cold hands are trying to hang clothes outside.
Washboards have a long history. Even before they were used, American Indians and early settlers would go down to the river, soak their laundry and beat it on the rocks to get it clean. History says some found rough stones to rub their clothes on to help get the dirt out.
When washboards were first invented is subject to question. The late 1700s seem to be the time when boards that resemble those of today started to appear. They were widely used during the 1800s and into the early 1900s.
Being the ingenious people we are, we constantly look for ways to save labor. Washers with wooden tubs and hand operated agitators and wringers to squeeze the water out gradually came into use. From then on, washing machines continued to be improved and have developed into the modern, easy-to-use machines of today. We don't know what may be invented next.
Betty says that, being the oldest of seven children in her family, she remembers using both a washboard and a hand operated wringer.
You can still buy washboards today, should you want one. While a few are still being used to wash clothes, most make interesting decorations to remind us of the past. Some get made into coffee tables or magazine racks.
One company in the United States still makes quality washboards. It is the Columbus Washboard Company in Logan, Ohio. They started in 1883 in a back room and have grown over the years into making a variety of kinds of washboards. You can get them in brass, stainless steel, glass, spiral metal and galvanized metal. Even with a simple washboard you have choices.
Prices vary from about $10 to $26 depending on what you want. Special wording is also available on the sides and top.
Then, if you are musically inclined, you can buy Uncle Willie's Musical Washboard. That one will run you about $85, but just think about joining a band with your musical washboard. Great fun!
My information about these washboards came from the Columbus Washboard's Web page. Check it out some time.
They say cheaper, imported boards are available but don't match the quality of those made right here in Ohio.
So maybe you should find and old washboard at a flea market or antique shop or buy a new one. Then hang it in your laundry room just to remind you how fortunate we are.
Parker is retired from The Ohio State University and an independent writer for the Tribune.