Old - Thor Gentle Hand Washing Machine Agitator



Designer Unknown
Gentle Hand Washing Machine Agitator
Designed 1936
Cast aluminum
6 x 12 ½ x 12 ½ in. (15.2 x 31.8 x 31.8 cm)
Produced by Thor Corporation, Chicago, Illinois




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The Thor Corporation which produced the Gentle Hand washing machine began as the Hurley Machine Company in Chicago. In 1910, Hurley received a utility patent for a drive mechanism designed by Alva J. Fisher 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 advertisement for the Gentle Hand washing machine [ILLUSTRATION], copyrighted on March 25, 1936, helps to date the accompanying agitator to that year. The ad claims it “combines hand gentleness with machine speed. . . . Thor’s ‘Gentle Hand’ action restores them without a trace of ‘Wash Wear.’” 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.[2]

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), 50.

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