Learning to Look: Washboard

Washboard with wood frame and metal scrubbing surface made by Columbus Washboard Co

Washboard – Education Team Collection

This is an example of a wood and metal washboard. These tools were commonly used to clean clothes before people had washing machines, but people still use them today. This one is a “travel washboard” and is smaller in size than regular sized washboards.

A washboard is a tool designed for hand washing clothing. The rubbing is similar to beating the clothes or rubbing them on rocks, but is gentler on the fabric. It also is similar to what a washing machine does with clothes, either with the middle agitator on a top-loading machine or the drum and ridges on a front-loading washing machine.

This washboard is a “Dubl Handi” brand, made by Columbus Washboard Company, Columbus, Ohio. It was sold at Ace Hardware. It has text printed on either side of the wood frame. On one side it reads, “USE EITHER SIDE ACCORDING TO FABRIC.”

On other side it says, “IDEAL FOR SILKS, HOSIERY AND LINGERIE OR HANDKERCHIEFS JUST THE RIGHT SIZE TO FIT A BUCKET PAIL OR LAVATORY PACKS EASILY INTO SUIT CASE OR TRAVELING BAG MADE IN U.S.A.”

How to Use a Washboard

Woman scrubs laundry using a washboard outside in 1930s-40s

Woman using a washboard, 1930s-40s. Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain

To use a washboard, you need to:

  1. Soak clothes in hot soapy water in a bucket, washtub, or sink.
  2. Put the washboard into the bucket, washtub, or sink “feet” first.
  3. Squeeze and rub the clothes against the ridges of the washboard, all the way down into the water to remove the loosened dirt, then scrub again (and again) until the clothes are clean.

 

Washboards as Musical Instruments!

Did you know washboards also can be used as a musical instrument? By moving hands, spoons, thimbles, or other objects against the ridges of the washboard, the player can create great rhythms. Washboards can be used to play different kinds of music. The video below shows a Zydeco musician playing a solo.

Learning to Look

  • Have you seen or used a washboard before?
  • Does the washboard remind you of anything you’ve seen or have in your house?
  • This washboard is made from wood and metal. How do you think it feels? Smooth? Rough? Heavy? Light?
  • How do you think it feels to wash clothes with a washboard. Is it hard? Easy? Wet? Messy?
  • The washboard can be used as a musical instrument. Can you think of any other household items that can be used to make music? What sounds can you make with them?

Activities

  1. Start your own band! Make musical instruments out of items you have at home. This is a great way to recycle and reuse too!
  2. For kids: Help your parent or guardian wash a load of clothes. What are the steps that you have to do to get the clothes clean? Create your own chart to teach other people how to wash clothes. How are they different from what people used to do before washing machines were invented? How are they the same?

Learn More

Companies are still making washboards. Learn more about one here: https://columbuswashboard.com/

Watch the CBS Sunday Morning segment about washboards:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAec7gBoeUQ

See washboards at other museums:
https://www.madeinchicagomuseum.com/single-post/national-washboard-co/

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