Thor Gentle Hand Washing Machine Agitator

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John T. Hume (born c. 1872)
Gentle Hand Washing Machine Agitator
Designed 1936 (D100,861)
Cast aluminum
6 x 12 ½ x 12 ½ in. (15.2 x 31.8 x 31.8 cm)
K2017.9.16
Produced by Hurley Machine Company, Chicago, Illinois

In 1908, Alva J. Fisher applied for a utility patent for a drive mechanism, assigned to the Hurley Machine Company in Chicago, in which the agitator rotates “through several revolutions in one direction then through several revolutions in the reverse direction to prevent the clothes from wadding up into a compact mass,” as well as “lifting vanes” that lifted and dropped the clothes to shift them around in the water.[1]

This 1936 advertisement for the Gentle Hand washing machine [ILLUSTRATION] claims, “Thor combines both hand gentleness with machine speed.” Thor was a trademark of the Hurley Machine Company, a division of the Electric Household Utilities Corporation,[2] to which John T. Hume assigned his design patent for the agitator. In addition to the functional considerations of this agitator, the design is artful, incorporating three pairs of sculptural molded hands in a centrifugal pattern with the fingers stretched out to the perimeter of the agitator. According to Lee Maxwell, the stores would paint the fingernails of the agitator’s hands red on the display models as a sales gimmick.[3] This surprising design recalls the surrealistic work of Salvador Dali who depicted series of hands in both paintings and the decorative arts of the 1930s and 1940s, seen in this 1949 textile design, Leaf Hands, for Schiffer.

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[1] United States Patent and Trademark Office, utility patent application for a “Drive Mechanism for Washing Machines,” originally filed by Alva J. Fisher on September 28, 1908 (divided application refiled May 27, 1909), granted August 9, 1910: 966,677.

[2] Lee Maxwell, Save Women’s Lives: History of Washing Machines (Eaton, CO: Oldewash, 2003), 49.

[3] Lee Maxwell, Save Women’s Lives: History of Washing Machines (Eaton, CO: Oldewash, 2003), 50.

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