Laundry History

A brief history of laundry, including information about the clothespin, clothesline, and old-fashioned technology.

The history of laundry and clotheslines is fascinating. Learn more here and let us know if we are missing something important.


The old way of washing and drying took a long time and some elbow grease.
Woman washing
Washing clothes. Johanna Erickson Peterson washing clothes on Lewis Peterson farm, Hamlin Township, Lac qui Parle County, ca. 1910. Photograph Collection. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Homecoming by Norman Rockwell
Printfinders:: Art Poster - Homecoming by Norman Rockwell, 25.75 x 20 (Portraits & Figures)

Laundry Art

Learn more about this important painting.

There are thousands and thousands of artists who have capitalized on the clothesline as a compelling image. We have created a gallery of some of these paintings, sculptures, and photographs in the Gallery section section of our site.
Photography and paintings, sculpture and other artwork by Claes Oldenburg, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pietro Longhi, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Sabra Field, Mary Azarian, and Josef Albers can all be seen at our gallery.

Some Clothespin History

In December 2002, Richard Penley turned off the machines at the Penley Corp. clothespin plant in West Paris, laying off 39 of the company’s 54 employees. Penley now imports and distributes clothespins – the very ones he used to compete against – as well as wooden matches, toothpicks, plastic straws and cutlery.
Penley, whose company was started in 1923 by his grandfather and his two brothers, said this is an “evolutionary time” for Maine’s wood product industry.
“The small family-owned, secondary wood processing companies are dying off,” he said. (Source: Montana Associated Technology Roundtables)
The Better Clothespin in American Heritage (Fall 2006, Volume 22, Issue 2)

In 1908 and again in 1926 the Patent Office transferred thousands of patent models to the Smithsonian, including these clothespins. Clothespin patent models, 1852-87. Between 1852 and 1887, the Patent Office granted patents to 146 different clothespins.