Washboard

There were a ton of products used to do laundry back in the day.— Wikipedia photo

Approximately every 10 days, I remove items from the hamper in my bathroom, take them downstairs to the laundry room, and allow the washer to fill with water as I place Tide detergent and Clorox in the washing machine. While doing this last weekend, my mind drifted back in time to the days when I assisted my mother in loading items into her washing machine. As I continued to stare at the Tide detergent, I recalled the detergents my mother once used. Travel back in time with me today as I reflect on the laundry detergents used in homes, back in the day.

As we consider that the 1950s, when I assisted my mother, was more than 60 years ago, our minds may not be as sharp as they once were. Thus, memories, of products that our mothers used to wash clothes may not be so sharp. You may recall, however, that there were few liquid detergents; detergents came mainly in a powder form.

Readers of today’s column may remember Duz detergent which was popular in the 1950s. Maybe you do not remember the name but you recall the red box that contained a piece of 22-karat-gold trimmed dinnerware. Yes, in the 1950s Duz detergent began a promotional campaign where a bowl or serving piece was added to boxes of Duz as an incentive to encourage customers to purchase the detergent. I understand that Duz gained significant popularity with this promotion.

But many families, like mine viewed Ivory detergent as the most desirable of all detergents, back in the day. Perhaps it was based on a view that my mother regularly claimed that no other detergent got white clothes whiter than Proctor and Gamble’s Ivory detergent. Its effective marketing campaign could have also been the reason for its preference. Some will recall the claim that Ivory was pure, and its soap could float in water. It appealed to others because of its slogan, “99 44/100% pure.”

Who recalls Dash laundry detergent? If it is unfamiliar to you, perhaps you recall Oxydol laundry detergent. Oxydol detergent was popular in the 1940s. Perhaps 20 Mule Team Borax Soap Chips is a familiar one. Salvo laundry tablets, Babbitt’s Soap Powder or Ransburg Black Soap Flake laundry detergent might have been in your childhood home. I should also mention Felso “white detergent,” or the tin bucket of “All,” another laundry detergent of the past. I wonder how many of you may recall these detergents.

Other detergents had interesting marketing strategies. A Cannon kitchen towel was contained in every box of Breeze laundry detergent. Cheer is another story! A Tribune employee vividly remembers as a child, “The Cheer man” walking through her West Philadelphia neighborhood on stilts, wearing a top hat, an Edwardian-style jacket and striped pants. He would ring doorbells and when someone answered the door, he would say, “Show me your Cheer.” She still recalls her mother rushing to the basement to get her box of Cheer. Those able to show the Cheer man a box of Cheer would receive $10. For a period of time, the box of Cheer detergent also contained a steak knife to encourage buyers to purchase their product.

If you had Silver Dust laundry powder in your home in the past, you might recall that it too contained a gift: a Cannon dish towel was packed inside of each box. Finally, Octagon Soap Powder also embraced the promotion gimmick by providing a premium coupon on the package.

There are other laundry detergents from the past that you might recall. Lighthouse washing powder was one of those detergents from the past. Lighthouse purported to save labor, time and money. Some might be familiar with Sal Soda Washing Soap. I am unfamiliar with it but it was popular in 1965. However, Ivorine Washing Powder Elephant, around in 1901, is probably unknown to most.

Another detergent was Snow Boy washing powder. Then add Dreft to the list. The box’s unusual design made the bottom of the box look like a rocket. On the other hand, Arm & Hammer is probably familiar to many of you. It was in most homes during the 1950s. While I have a box of Fairbanks Gold Dust Washing Powder, with the two stereotypical Black kids on the box, in my Black memorabilia collection today, I do not recall seeing this product in my home as a child. There were many more detergents back then such as Breeze, Cold Power, Trend, Super Suds, Ariel, Ivory Snow, John Lake Sunlight Soap, and many others not included in this column.

How old is soap or laundry detergent? From ancient times, chemical additives added to water were used to aid in the washing of textile fibers. An Internet posting indicated that the earliest recorded evidence of the production of a material resembling soap goes back to 2800 BC in ancient Babylon. Interestingly, many of these laundry detergents have survived over the years and are still being used today — perhaps not as a powder but as a liquid.

So, the next time you are out shopping, stop by the aisle for laundry detergents and see how many of these detergents once sought by our parents are still around as they were back in the day.

Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.

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