Inside the Collection

What a whiz: Innovative designs that changed work in the home – washing

Photograph of Toy clothes wringer
85/885 Toy wringer, USA, c 1900. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The life of women changed significantly with domestic design innovations of the 1950s and 60s, with access to time- saving devices like washing machines. With the advent of washing machines, fridges, kitchen whiz’s and hills hoist to name a few, the lives of housewives of the 60s was vastly different to their mothers.

Washing was the worst household task and using a wringer like the one pictured above, was one part of the laborious steps in the process of washing clothes and linen.  It was also the task that had the least innovation and mechanisation in the 1800s and early 1900s. A range of ingenious devices were offered to alleviate the burden of cooking and sewing it was only with the spread of electric washing machine ownership that the work involved in ‘doing the wash’ change significantly. Even then traditions like washing on Monday, after Sunday the day deemed for rest, continued.

Photograph of Posser, laundry
85/361 Posser, laundry, wood, Australia, late 19th century-early 20th century. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Well into the 1950s, most Australian women washed by hand. Doing a family’s washing involved a complex process of heating water, soaking clothes, agitating them with a posser, scrubbing them on a board, rinsing and pushing them through a wringer. The clothes line was commonly a wire strung between two poles, propped up with another piece of wood. For many the frustrations of wash day were compounded when the pole fell over or the line broke, pitching clean clothes into the mud. This wringer which attached to the side of the tub and was turned by hand is a reminder of the hard work involved in keeping a family clean.

Photograph of Toy Hills Hoist "Mini-Hoist" rotary clothes line
87/664 Toy Hills Hoist “Mini-Hoist” rotary clothes line, made by Hills Hoists Ltd, [Adelaide, South Australia], Australia, 1956-1959. Collection Powerhouse Museum
Toys have been used not only for play but to teach children about their future roles. Within the collection we have many domestically orientated toys for young girls and like wise cars, garages and equipment for young boys.

‘This is a toy version of the Hills Hoist rotary clothes line and marketed as the “Mini-Hoist” between 1956 and 1959. The full-size Hills Hoist was launched in 1946 in Adelaide, South Australia, and designed by Lance Hill. The toy was made so that little girls could hang out their dolls’ clothes on a washing line just like their mothers. It stands only 2 feet (61 cm) high and was made by the manufacturer of the full-size clothes lines, Hills Hoist Ltd. The Hills Hoist became Australia’s most successful wind-powered rotary clothes drier. The significant design element of the Hills Hoist were that four arms which rotated to give easy access to all areas of the line instead of walking up the down to peg out washing. The arms could be raised after the washing had been hung out keeping it clear of children and pets. The length of the wires outer was long enough for a double bed sheet. A full load of washing could catch the breeze and rotate, which increased its dying speed’.1

Photograph of Float and costumes
2004/2/18 Float and costumes (4), ‘Granny Smith’, mixed media, designed by David Waller, used at ‘Journey of a Nation’ Centenary of Federation parade, made in Australia, 2000. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The hills hoist has become a ubiquitous part of the Australian suburban landscape and so much a part of our visual referencing that it has been interpreted ironically by artist and used in national celebrations. Like the Federation parade and the Sydney Olympic Games. The Musuem also holds a hills hoist costume, one of several that featured in the Closing Ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. It was harnessed to a performer balancing on stilts and was animated by a brief pyrotechnics display, with sparks spraying from the corners of the hoist and showering down around the performer. Designed by John King, it featured in the segment, `Let’s Party’, during Vanessa Amorosi’s performance of, `Absolutely Everybody’.

1. 87/664 Statement of significance by Margaret Simpson, transport curator.

Written byAnni Turnbull, curator design and society.

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