Feb 072005
Authors: Anne Farrell

"If you could have your choice Mrs. Jones, what washer would you choose?" – Maytag Advertisement 1945.

Mrs. Jones chose the Maytag, but Lee Maxwell showed no bias toward advertisements and simply took them all.

Maxwell is an electrical engineering professor who retired from CSU 19 years ago. Ever since, he has been filling up both his barn and his free time with an object taken for granted by most people today – the washing machine.

"I decided since I don't golf or fish, I took up washing machine collecting," Maxwell said.

Maxwell and his wife spend the summer roaming the continental United States and Canada for unique machines to add to his collection. On his first trip he brought back 13. Today he houses more than 1,000 in the restored barn and wooden water tower positioned on his Eaton property.

Maxwell's grandfather was also involved at CSU when 81 years ago he signed the 100-year lease allowing the university to use the land on which the "A" is located.

While washing machines originated in the United States, Maxwell's museum also houses four machines from Australia, 12 from England and several from Germany and France. These machines, as well as the others found in the museum, demonstrate technology and workmanship over time.

The museum, marked with the unique sign "Lee Maxwell Collector of Old and Unusual Washing Machines" offers visitors an opportunity to learn about washing machines through the decades.

The modern washer is no comparison to multitasking machines that could not only wash your clothes but also can fruits and vegetables and churn butter. These machines saved the hands, backs and sanity of many women.

"I like my hands nice and soft so having something else do (laundry) for me is wonderful," said Janelle Blair a freshman chemistry major.

Vintage ads promise that an Apex Electric "makes your dainty things last longer," (1920) a General Electric makes "easier happier washdays" (1948) and that "you get more money for your Maytag!" (1948), but no matter the slogan all machines are different.

In Maxwell's collection, more than 1,000 washing machines, 30 peacocks, several vintage vacuum cleaners and a single Westinghouse dryer that plays the jingle "How Dry I Am" when the door is opened welcome visitors' curiosity.

"Everything is original, just cleaned up," Maxwell said.

Maxwell spends a week restoring each machine beginning with disassembling followed by washing, sanding, sandblasting, repainting and finally oiling all of the wood. Replacement pieces are found by salvaging but are becoming harder to locate as they get further buried in most junkyards.

A foremost expert on washing machines and their history, Maxwell is also the author of Saving Women's Lives: History of Washing Machines that can be found at the Morgan Library.

For information regarding museum tours or the book visit www.oldewash.com.

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