Washboards featured at Pasto Ag Museum open house Sept. 16

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The next in a series of fall open houses at Penn State's Pasto Agricultural Museum will focus on washboards and their historical significance in America's past.

The event is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16.

Before mechanized clothes washing became common by the end of the 19th century, washboards were a common and vital tool in America and Europe, according to curator Rita Graef.

"We will engage visitors in 'doing the laundry,' like it might have been done in times past," she said. "Visitors can try scrub boards and bar soap, and old-fashioned clothes pegs. They also can make button yo-yos and clothes-peg dolls to take home."

Washing might have been a whole day's activity in the household a century ago, Graef noted, because it took time to heat the water, scrub, rinse and wring clothes and linens, and then hang it all to dry.

"And washing was done for other reasons than just removing dirt, such as killing any germs or insect eggs that might be lurking inside the clothes," she said. "This was a priority in the 1800s, when sanitation and sewage systems varied greatly from area to area and were not standardized to the extent they are today."

The traditional washboard usually was constructed with a rectangular wooden frame in which were mounted a series of ridges or corrugations for the clothing to be rubbed upon. For 19th century washboards, the ridges often were made of wood; by the 20th century, ridges of metal were more common.

A "fluted" metal washboard was patented in the United States in 1833. Zinc washboards were manufactured in the United States from the middle of the 19th century. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, ridges of galvanized steel are most common, but some modern boards are made of glass.

Washboards with brass ridges still are made, and some who use washboards as musical instruments prefer the sound of the somewhat more expensive brass boards, Graef pointed out.

Operated by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, the museum is welcoming visitors from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Sunday during Penn State home football weekends as part of an initiative to increase public awareness of the museum's collection. Other open houses are set for Sept. 23, Oct. 7, Oct. 28 and Nov. 25.

Graef said the open houses will help the public appreciate the time when energy for work was supplied by the power of humans and animals.

"By seeing and touching tools and equipment used in early agriculture and rural life, people will better understand how early technological developments led to modern-day technologies," she said.

More information on the museum and its open houses is available online at http://agsci.psu.edu/pasto. To receive information and event reminders via email, send a message to PastoAgMuseum@psu.edu. Contact curator Rita Graef at 814-863-1383 or by email at rsg7@psu.edu.

Located on the Ag Progress Days site at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs -- nine miles southwest of State College on Route 45 -- the museum features hundreds of rare farm and home implements from the "muscle-power era," before the advent of electricity and gasoline-powered engines.

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Last Updated September 07, 2012