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Keeping a Grip on Spring Cleaning

April 1, 2014

Longer days make us think of spring. And spring makes us think of…laundry. Laundry? (Well, along with things like trees leafing out in a delicate green and daffodils blooming.) Yes, laundry gently hanging to dry in the warm breeze.

Before the automatic clothes dryer became common in American homes in the years following World War II, housewives hung their laundry out to dry—either indoors or outdoors, depending on the weather. Clotheslines stretched across farmyards, out the windows of tall, closely-built apartment buildings in the city, or in suburban backyards or basements. What kept the clothes, sheets, towels from leaving the clothesline and taking flight in the breeze? Clothespins.

In the 1950s, though many households had an automatic washing machine, some might not yet have owned an automatic dryer. Housewives still hung their wet laundry to dry on clotheslines stretched across basements or backyards, as weather permitted. “Sunny Days” were best for hanging laundry outside: clothing and household linens acquired a fresh, outdoorsy scent that automatic dryers—though more convenient—couldn’t duplicate.

Munising Clothespins from The Henry Ford

Munising “Sunny Day” Clothespins, 1953-1955 (Object ID 2012.88.380).

Child’s play has often involved learning grownup roles. In an era when most girls anticipated futures as housewives, toys for girls included miniatures of mother’s work. Appropriately sized for little hands and doll clothing, colorful toy clothespins like these gave little girls a chance to practice hanging out the laundry.

My Dolly's Pins

“My Doll” Toy Clothespins, 1958-1962 (Object ID 2012.88.384).

These Klose Klip brand clothespins promised “no tearing, no soiling, no freezing to line.” No freezing? Before automatic clothes dryers became common, many housewives hung their wet laundry on a clothesline outdoors—even in cold weather. Suspended from a metal clip, Klose Klip clothespins assured that clean laundry wouldn’t be soiled by contact with any dirt found on a cotton clothesline that hung continually outdoors.

Klose Klips

“Klose Klips” Clothespins, 1930-1940 (Object ID 2012.88.401).

Before automatic clothes dryers came on the market after World War II, housewives hung their wet laundry to dry on clotheslines stretched across basements or backyards. Whether lightweight hosiery or heavy blankets, these Sure Grip clothespins promised to keep clean clothes and household linens from falling to the ground—and perhaps having to be washed all over again.

Sure Grip

“Sure Grip” Clothespins, ca. 1945 (Object ID 2012.88.405).

Now it is considered “green” to hang laundry outdoors, avoiding wasting energy by drying clothes in an automatic dryer. And the warm sun provides a fresh, clean smell that is unbeatable—along with a little spring pollen.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

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