Saturday, February 23, 2019

Day 23 - Ellen Elgin - Through The Wringer

An old washtub

Ellen Elgin

1849 - 1890?

(Today is "V", so we are doing another one-shot inventor)

Who Was She?

Ellen Elgin was born in Washington, D.C. She worked as a housekeeper and also has a clerk. 

An old washboard
Housekeepers often have to do laundry. Back in the 1800s, there were very few options for washing clothes other than putting them in a washtub and scrubbing them by hand on a washboard.    

After scrubbing the laundry by hand on the washboard, it was necessary to wring the clothes out by hand and them hand them to dry.

Ellen realized that there had to be a better way to wring the water out of clothes. So, she put her mind to it and came up with something that revolutionized the very necessary act of washing clothes. 

What Did She Invent?

Ellen Elgin invented the first clothes wringer! It was two rollers and a crank. For the first time in history, once the clothes were washed, you could get most of the water out of them with little or no effort. It also cut down on the time it took to dry the clothes, and it most likely saved a generation of women from repetitive workplace injuries from all that squeezing and hand wringing! (That last bit is my own editorializing. Anyone who has ever had to wring out something bulky knows what I'm talking about)

Ellen Elgin's Device

After she invented it, Elgin worried that if people found out a black woman invented it, nobody would use it.

She sold her idea to a white person who was interested in manufacturing the device for the hefty sum of eighteen dollars.

The person Ellen sold it to made a fortune transforming how women all over the world washed laundry. 

Ellen? She made $18.00.

What Is Her Legacy?

It wasn't riches.

It wasn't recognition then or now.

Until the first electric washers hit the market, people used Ellen Elgin's wringer to get the very last scintilla of extra water out of their clothes.

We still use the wringer today for mops. 

My favorite part of her legacy has nothing to do with housework or janitorial services.

The wringer was so common and so successful, that Elgin's invention crept into common parlance. 

To this day people use the phrase - "Putting someone through the wringer" to mean Putting someone through a great deal of trouble until you've squeezed everything out of them.

So, the next time you see set up where someone is using one of those hand-wringers to get the water out of the mop, or you hear someone talk about either being put the wringer or noting someone else was put through the wringer, it is all due to Ellen Elgin.

She revolutionized an industry and placed a permanent marker in our language.

Thank you, Ellen Elgin!

Celebrate Black History!

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