All of these words have been used, at some point, to describe a clothes drying rack.
Ever since people have worn clothes they have needed to wash and dry them. Although clothes lines were the always popular method of the latter job, drying racks and modern electric dryers have taken over in the past few hundred years. Over the past few centuries, many styles of drying racks have been invented both stationary and portable to make this tedious task a little easier.
Racks have been made from wood, metal and more recently plastic. In England in the mid 1800’s, the pulley “clothes airer” or “clothes maiden” became the popular dryer. This drying rack would be loaded with clothes and then hoisted up to the very high Victorian ceilings of this time period. The clothes would then dry, up out of the way, before being lowered back down and ironed.
A drying horse, also known as a clothes horse, was a portable folding style rack popular in the 1900’s. Today, a clothes horse often refers to a person who has a passion for fashion and shopping. In Scotland during this time, a drying horse was called a winterdyke. This was because in the summer months Scots would dry their clothes by hanging them on dykes or small walls/fences outdoors. When the winter came, the job had to be done inside using these more portable racks; hence the name winterdyke. Clothes racks were a common sight until the electric tumble dryer was invented.
The first heated dryer, called the ventilator, was developed prior to the 19th century and featured a metal drum with holes that could be turned over an open flame. Although it worked, it was highly unsafe and often left clothes smelling of smoke. In 1892, George Sampson of Ohio patented a ventilator dryer that used the heat from a stove to dry clothes. This machine kept the clothes far enough away from the heat source that they would not burn, yet would still dry quickly. It was not until 1938 that J Ross Moore of North Dakota invented the first modern electric dryer. With a high price tag, these electric dryers were slow to the market and by 1955 only 10% of homes had one. Now a modern appliance found in nearly all homes, the electric clothes dryer has made a once tedious process much simpler. Surprisingly though, it is becoming more and more popular for people today to use a drying rack, as people are more energy conscious. It is certainly a cheaper, more eco-friendly way of dry clothing, and for some, it adds a little nostalgia to their daily routine.
We have many antique clothes drying racks from a variety of time periods available at The PAST Antiques Marketplace on Route 85 in Montville, CT. The Gateway Museum also features an exhibit dedicated to the technological advances in the field of laundry. Visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace & Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village to experience our full antique laundry collection and display.
Check back next week for another Trivia Tuesday!