Last updated: March 04. 2014 2:12PM - 1076 Views
By Rhonda Chalfant Contributing Columnist



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Sometimes a historian’s life is complicated by lack of source materials. Consider the not-quite-ongoing story of the new city hall that was approved by voters but was not built.


On Jan. 6, 1920, the Sedalia City Council reviewed a set of bids for demolition of the existing city hall and construction of a new city hall. The bids had not been presented properly, so the council decided to advertise again for bids. Jan. 19 was set for opening of the bids. The council again rejected the bids.


Unfortunately, the microfilm of the Jan. 20 issue of the Sedalia Democrat is damaged and most of the article is missing. The City Council minutes may reveal the reason for the decision, and if they are available, I will consult them to see why these bids were rejected and finish the saga. Until then, the columns will detail news from early 1920.


The advances of the Industrial Revolution continued into the 20th century as new machines were developed to make homemaking easier. One of those inventions was the electric washing machine.


Hand-powered washing machines had been developed in the late 19th century and were manufactured at many factories, including one at Tipton.


To use a hand-powered washing machine, the housewife turned or pushed a handle that operated a wooden paddle that sloshed the clothes around in a tub of hot water. After the clothes had washed, she removed them from the washing machine tub by hand and put them through a hand cranked wringer and into a tub of clean water to be rinsed. Then she put the clothes put through the wringer again and carried them to be hung on the clothes line to dry. Washing, rinsing, and drying a family’s laundry was time consuming and difficult, but was much easier than using a washboard and tubs.


The electric washing machine debuted in the early 20th century. In 1915, the Crystal Electric Washer and Wringer and 272 other models were exhibited at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The Crystal Machine won the gold medal.


In late January 1920, Sedalians got a chance to see this engineering marvel, and according to the Sedalia Democrat, hundreds of people crowded the City Light and Traction Company building in order to watch a demonstration.


The Democrat described the Crystal Washer and Wringer as using a “domestic electric motor” fitted with ball bearings. The flexible drive shaft would not become charged magnetically and would run even when out of line. The gears were steel cut, the square shafts had tapered connections, and the motor was splash proof. In addition, the machine had an automatic release that stopped the motor if the machine was overloaded, preventing the motor from burning out or from blowing the home’s fuses.


Unlike other early electric washing machines, the Crystal model had no visible “belts, chains and unsightly propelling apparatus.” This was an important safety feature, designed to keep the user’s clothing or hands from getting caught in the machinery.


The wringer swung to the machine and was reversible, so clothes caught in the wringer could be released. The wringer also had a release on both ends, another safety feature that protected the operator should her hands be caught in the wringer. The controls were “centrally located and accessible from any point of the machine.”


The Crystal was durable. Its frame was constructed on angle iron, which made the machine both “light” and “durable.” The wash tank was Armco Steel or copper, and contained the washing mechanism, a zinc cylinder.


The Democrat praised the economical nature of the Crystal, noting that it would last the average family 10 years. It used only two cents per hour for the electricity to power the machine. The homemaker who did her family’s laundry could save $2.50 per week, the average cost of having a laundress come to the home to wash, rinse, and dry the family’s clothes. In addition, the homemaker could save the cost of the lunch that was part of the laundress’ remuneration. Clothing, spared the rough rubbing on a washboard, would last longer and not need to be replaced as often, providing another savings.


Despite the Crystal’s apparent economy, the Democrat did not include the price of the machine in the article.

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