Imagine you are a housewife living in the 1950s. It is washing day, but the rain is pelting down and if you hang things out in this weather they will never dry. Luckily you have a wonderful clothes horse which your husband purchased for you. You need to make sure the washing is done, but at least you can hang the washing inside, near the fire so that it dries!
When I showed the children this old clothes horse, they had absolutely no idea what it could be. They had never seen a clothes horse like this one, with most clothes horses today being plastic or metal and rectangular or square in shape. Moreover, several of the children told me that they didn’t use a clothes horse at home anyway, with one explaining ‘it’s 2013, we have driers’. This old, wooden, round clothes horse was beyond their experience!
In days gone by, before gas or electric driers were created, the only way to dry clothes was on a clothesline or clothes horse, in the sun. For many years, laundry day was a social occasion, with women hanging their washing in tiny, adjoining backyards, or from pulley clotheslines strung up in laneways and alleys. Today, if it rains people simply postpone washing day, or dry their clothes in a clothes drier, but in these early days, in rainy weather the only other option was often to hang clothing inside, near the fire. As time went by, racks were created to make hanging washing inside easier. All clotheslines were straight lines though, and so were all racks. Nobody had thought of hanging clothes in a circle to save space . . .
. . . Until Gilbert Toyne. Toyne was an Australian and in 1926 he invented the worlds first round clothesline. His design was similar to an umbrella, with a central support holding up the ‘canopy’ of clotheslines. Four arms stretch out from the centre post and between them lines are strung for hanging clothes. These arms can even be collapsed, just like an umbrella! Many say the Hills Hoist company invented the clothes line, but it would be 20 years before the Hills Hoist began to be marketed, though it is today the most popular Australian clothesline and there are similar clotheslines in backyards all over the world. It is likely the clotheshorse I showed the children is based on Toyne’s original idea for an ‘umbrella like’ clothesline with the same basic structure but many more arms radiating out, on which the clothes are simply hung. Of course, on non-washing days, with the aid of a couple of sheets this clothes horse made a fantastic cubby house!