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11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day

11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day

The modern, industrialized world revolves around a myriad of electrical and electronic gadgets. Little is done anymore which doesn’t require electrical power.

We’ve harnessed this power for tasks to make our lives easier, as well as more interesting. The electric motor is at the core of many of these devices. By using motors, we eliminate the need to provide the manpower for these devices ourselves. This saves both work and time, allowing us to accomplish more, with less effort. Such is modern progress.

One of the major areas where this technology has been applied is in the home, specifically in making homemaking chores easier. Back before electricity, many household tasks required considerable muscle power to accomplish. Women had to work a lot harder in the home and usually for many more hours to get their work done.

While these gadgets do make things easier, our ancestors got by just fine without them. Learning about their appliances can be useful, whether it’s simply to use as a backup in case our electronic versions break, or it’s to use during a power outage.

1. Wood-burning cook stoves

Many homesteaders already use stoves for heat, but that doesn’t mean that they can cook on them. Unlike the older designs, few modern wood-burning stoves are designed to allow their tops to be used as a cook stove. Also, modern wood-burning stoves generally are not in the kitchen.

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The difference is that a cook stove is designed for cooking, rather than heating. It provides burners for cooking food in pots and pans, as well as an oven for baking. If you can find one, they’re worth picking up, as new ones are often running over $5,000.

2. Wood-fired water heater

An add-on option to the wood-burning cook stove is a wood-fired water heater. These were a metal tube, installed in the cook stove, above the firebox. Filled, they would hold about five gallons of water, enough to heat a bathtub, when brought to boiling. A spigot on the front allows easy removal of the heated water into a pot or pail.

3. Fireplace crane

11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day

Fireplace crane. Image source: Chimney Direct

Those who couldn’t afford a cook stove were stuck with cooking in their fireplaces. That may seem excessively rustic to us today, but it was very common throughout much of history. All a cook stove did was make cooking more convenient, but just like cooking hot dogs over a campfire still works today, so does cooking over a fireplace.

One common means of cooking over a fire in a home was to use a fireplace crane. This is a metal hook, mounted to the side of the fireplace, which allows a suspended pot to be swung over the fire and then swung away for stirring and serving. The fireplace crane adds a lot of safety to cooking in a fireplace, as well as convenience.

4. Oil lamps

Maybe this one isn’t really an appliance, but oil lamps are a vast improvement over using candles for light. They don’t require the time it takes to make candles, can be used with any oil, and provide much more light. This increase in light comes from their larger wick. When used with mineral oil, lamps are smoke-free, helping to keep the air in your home fresher and cleaner.

Surprisingly, few homesteaders and survivalists have oil lamps in their stockpile, mostly opting for candles. But a few oil lamps will serve much better over the long run, ultimately providing much better lighting. Since they can burn other oils than just mineral oil, they will probably still be usable after paraffin for making candles runs out.

5. Washboard

Yes, washboards do have a purpose other than a hillbilly band. The old-fashioned washboard made washing easier, if you can believe that. The corrugated surface provided agitation to the clothes, breaking loose dirt so that it can be rinsed away. While this may not seem easy, it’s better than not having one.

11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day

Image source: Wikimedia

Washboards come in two sizes, a smaller one that is 18 inches x 9 inches and a larger one that is 24 inches x 12 inches. They are also made in a variety of different materials. While zinc-coated steel is the most common, they can also be made of copper, brass and even glass. Of the various materials, glass outlasts the rest.

6. Clothes wringer

If you’re going to have to wash clothes by hand, then it would be nice to be able to wring them out by hand, as well. Of course, you can do that totally by hand, building muscle and making your hands tired, or you can do it with a clothes wringer.

These wringers are most often associated with the early electric tub washing machines, which usually had a wringer mounted on the edge. However, some people had the wringer, without the tub washer. Either way, the wringer still does its job, making it much easier to get the majority of the water out of your clothes, without having to wear out your hands.

7. Kerosene clothes iron

People started ironing their clothes long before the electric clothes iron was invented. In colonial America and the pioneering days, the most common clothes iron was the cast iron, which was literally made of cast iron. The iron was placed on a wood stove for heating, and the mass of metal held the heat for ironing.

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The cast iron was ultimately replaced by the kerosene iron. This had a small fuel tank and an internal burner, making it totally self-contained. The tank would be filled with kerosene and the burner lit. Within a few minutes, the iron would be producing enough heat to iron your clothes. While nowhere near as convenient as a modern electric iron, this was a vast improvement over the cast iron.

8. Meat grinder

The meat grinder wasn’t something that would be found in all homes, but it was fairly common in farmhouses and butcher shops. At that time, grinding meat for hamburgers wasn’t all that common. Instead, meat grinders were used for grinding meat to make sausage. Usually, the meat grinder would be able to be used to stuff the sausage into the skins as well.

This was an important means of preserving meat, as all types of sausage and lunchmeats fall into the category of “cured” meats. The high salt content was the main curing methodology, as salt is a natural preservative. Much of this cured meat was also smoked, forming a skin of collagen around it, which would keep bacteria out.

9. Meat hammer

11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day You can still find meat hammers in use in kitchens today, although many people have no idea of what they are. The meat hammer is the original meat tenderizer, predating MSG by centuries. Not only does it predate MSG, but it’s much better for your health. The pointed surface of the meat hammer was used for breaking down tough meat, by breaking its structure. This made the meat much easier to chew and digest.

Game meat is generally considerably tougher than domesticated meats. If you are planning on eating game meat as part of your survival plans, then having a meat hammer on hand is going to make your meals much more enjoyable.

10. Apple peeler/corer

People who have apple orchards or even a single large apple tree need to be able to make use of their apples. In olden times, apples were squeezed for cider, dried as apple rings, turned into applesauce and made into apple butter. Some of these products required peeling and coring the apples, as these parts were not wanted. The job could be done by hand, but if you had a lot of apples to deal with, a peeler/corer was much easier.

This is a hand-crank device, which worked similar to a wood lathe. The blade would peel off the skin as the crank was turned. The core was easier, as putting the apple on the appliance actually meant pushing it onto the corer. A twist as the apple was removed, and the core stayed behind.

The same tool could be used for peeling potatoes, so it was useful in more than one way, although it was still referred to as an apple peeler.

11. Dutch oven

People who didn’t have that fancy wood-burning cook stove we talked about earlier still needed a means to bake. Pies, cakes and bread were all popular parts of their diets. But these require an oven. That’s where the Dutch oven comes in.

The Dutch oven of our grandparents day was different than most of what you buy today. What we call a Dutch oven now is nothing more than a medium-sized pot. It can’t be used in a fireplace well, and if it is, it will not last long. But these older Dutch Ovens were made of cast iron, making them much more durable and much better at resisting the damage of the fire.

A true Dutch oven will have feet cast into it, allowing it to be placed in the coals of the fire and still stand upright. The lid will have a rim on it as well so that coals can be piled on top, without falling off. In this manner, the food inside is surrounded by heat, something necessary for baking.

What old-time appliances would you add to this list? Share your tips in the section below:

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35 comments

  1. How would you make a cleaning solution either liquid or bar that won’t eat your clothes or hands like Lye soap can?

    • A combination of washing soda, Borax and grated Castile soap. Lots of recipes online. Search “homemade laundry detergent” or “natural Laundry soap”.

      • Castille soap is made using lye.
        Without lye one does not have soap as it is necessary to use lye to saponify your oils.
        Today there are great soap calculators that you can find online that will tell you exactly how much lye to use for your volume of oils, the formula is also available through a quick Google search.

        The harsh characteristics attributed to lye soap are actually a symptom of using too much lye, which is why you need the calculator or the formula. It can also be experienced if you make soap through the cold process and do not let it sit long enough for complete saponification. You can avoid that by making your soap by the hot process method.

    • I use Fels Naptha soap, borax, and washing soda with water. It makes a great detergent!

    • If your soap is eating your clothes or your hands you have too much lye in your recipe or you are not letting the soap cure for 3 weeks. A well made soap is mild, incredibly effective at cleaning things, has a good lather and a pleasant smell. After it has finished curing at no point should it be caustic enough to be harmful. If it is I’d recommend double-checking your recipe and/or trying a different one.

  2. Because of Bank Fraud I was left to live in an old tool shack in the woods. There had once been a house “on property” that had years before burned down and I had several years to go through the trash that was still on the property. One item I found was actually used as a washing agitator. It had a wooden handle, much like a toilet plunger, and at the bottom it had, professionally fashioned out of sheet metal, what I can only describe as twin funnels, placed open end down and behind each other with a couple of inches separating them from each other on the wooden dowel. It’s use was… the clothes were placed in a standing drum of soap and water and then the “washer” took this plunger like device and stuck the big end in the water and by raising it up and down “agitated” the clothes. Those were the days.

    • I still use an old, 4-sided box grater for cheese and veggies, and a hand-cranked “egg beater” for things that need vigorous beating.

  3. I would expand on the section about oil lamps and mention some of the improved versions such as the “round wick” lamps like the “Rayo” and the “Matador” which have a circular wick and a flame spreader which enables them to produce much more light. Then there is the “king” of oil lamps, the Aladdin! The Aladdin has an incandescent mantle and rivals electric light. If you are unfamiliar with the Aladdin, imagine a gasoline Coleman lantern without the noise and the pumping!

    • For those who don’t already know, there is a place in Ohio which serves the Dutch/Amish community there and in Pennsylvania called Lehman’s Non Electric Catalog. They are the main supplier of Aladdin Oil lamps and parts in America as are some old-timey hardware stores. They also carry most all of the things mentioned in this section. Peelers and cherry pitters come to mind a well as butter churns and much more. Warning- aladdin lamps are pricey, especially some of the fancier models. Check ’em out!

      • Yes the name of the company is called Lehman’s, we got our clothesline and a few other things there.
        They do have the old wood cook stove, wringers, washboards, wringers…

    • Great article! Just be sure you stock up on lamp wicks. It will make life much easier.
      If you have room and resources, get a fuel barrel on a stand . They range from 300 to 500 gallons for smaller ones. Even a 55 gal drum would be helpful. Your area farm co-op can point you toward a fuel supplier who will send out a truck load of diesel. Why would I want diesel if we had an EMP? Diiesel is essentially chemically interchangeable with kerosene. (Or you can get 300 gals of kerosene). These can be used in any diesel tractor or car or kerosene stove or lamp. (Not the dyed off-road for cars because it isnt road taxed). So even if we are as crazy as some think, you have usable fuel. Just be sure you treat it for storage. And now is the time to buy.

      • Kerosene is considered a “Dry” fuel and will damage the injectors of a modern diesel engine. Diesel fuel has lubricants added to prevent that.

  4. Four years ago I returned to using a 12 cup stainless steel stove-top coffee percolator. Best darn coffee in the world and HOT too!

  5. I learned to bake without electricity.

    Add that hand-mixer to your list.

    I’ve worked some carpentry in third world situations.

    Add that Yankee drill/screwdriver to your list as well.

  6. The hand mill works well, and allows you to use the stored grain.

  7. Not just Great Grand Parents, but my mother in England used a wringer and without a refrigerator she had a larder to help keep food (of course it’s not as hot there as in the US). For anyone wanting these today Lehmans sells many of them. A clothes wringer would be useful to have if we had no power.

  8. The old galvanized wash tub – where we bathed when I was young – it was used on Saturday nights when the whole family took turns in front of the wood cook stove and it was used on Mondays when we did our
    weekly clothes washing – it had handles and hung on the side of the house when not in use – was also used to carry the washed laundry to the clothes line where we hung everything up to dry with wooden clothes pins. Along with the scrub board and the clothes lines and clothes pins all of these things would be handy
    if we were without electricity and had to go back to survival mode.

  9. We used a hand-cranked wringer washing machine when I was a kid. I’m only 50. Just being a poor kid in East Texas. I still prefer to hang my laundry out.
    I have an electric mixer, but don’t usually bother getting it out. I just use a whisk. I use a hand-cranked meat grinder for game meat.

  10. My husband suggests adding a razor strop and whetstone, whereas I lean towards a manual 4 slice toaster and a treadle sewing machine. Also, for communication’s sake, a manual typewriter. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in the 1980s, the SF Chroniclr owed its first edition to Herb Caen’s old manual typewriter, laughed at until then.

  11. I would ad a small hand held butter churn with a crank on it to make homemade butter, you could barter for the cream from a local farmer, and I kept my mothers along with a lot of the items listed above…we had an east coast power outage a few years back and we sat and watched people driving up and down the road not realizing they could not buy any gas…without electric to pump it !!

  12. The Foley Food Mill lets you make applesauce without coring or peeling the apple.
    You just quarter them and cook in minimum water until tender. Then you put them
    in the food mill and turn the crank. The seeds, hard pulp, and skin are left in the
    mill and the apple sauce comes out the bottom. I added a small amount of my honey,
    a little cinnamon and had apple sauce.
    The food mill has other uses.

  13. I love hand pumps, for getting up water, just prime & pump. Had them on the farm, before they ran electric poles across several fields to get to the house, & barn! Then Mom dearly loved her electric milkers! lol I especially like it to wash, & rinse, my long hair!

  14. Just had to break out the hand crank meat grinder to make sausage after our electric one fried its circuit board. Only thing that will wore out was my arm. Would add wood saws to the list for that wood cook stove.

  15. Found an old wood burning cook stove about 40 years ago. My dad found it in an old farm house being demo’d and the farmer gave it to us just to get rid of it. Had the water jacket in the fire box recast at a foundary. Today, it sits in my kitchen fully functional with the 42 gallon tank for hot water. You can’t beat it. I also found in a barn at my mother-in-law’s place in Mississippi a couple of old oil lamps. Minus the chimney and had to get new wicks. One is a dual round wick Aladdin that puts out light equal to a 40 watt bulb.

  16. We have a hand-crank coffee grinder which is very old, but still works well. Also we have old butter churns. I also have a National #7 pressure cooker/canners which I am learning how to use. The original cook book came with the canner, and it includes directions on how to can on a wood stove!

  17. Above are good: add in Straight (cutthroat) Razor(s) {minimum 3 per shaver} plus a guard for hair cutting. Strops and stones and porcelain for honing; also sickles, sycthes, and hand powered shears. a treadle sewing machine and treadle whetstone make life a bit easier too.

  18. Clifton Palmer McLendon

    As recently as the late 1980s, I have put dirty clothes in a galvanized tub of soapy water, trod on them (like the old method of stomping the juice out of grapes), trod them out in clean water to rinse them, then hung them on the clothesline.

  19. I use my spinningwheel almost every day.If you don’t want the space taken up by a wheel you can use spindles. You might want to add a good loom as well unless you want to go without cloths.

  20. I have everything on the list except the fireplace crane. I don’t need it because I have the stove, but I’m going to get one for the fireplace as a backup.

  21. First I love the article list and the list from readers. The spinning wheel is awesome.
    My list: two man hand saw, draw knife, Brace and bits, and as many blacksmithing tools and gadgets I could round up.
    On another note, Williamsburg, VA is a great way to get the children involved and it is very educational for all walks of life. I love those folks!

  22. Don’t forget wood working tools. My husband collects antique wood working tools. We have all sorts of braces and bits, draw shaves, wooden Stanley levels, and trim planes. We also have a couple of Yankee screwdrivers. We use those tools all the time too. Easier to pull out the Yankee than the drill and extension cords. We also have a lot of antique kitchen utensils. However, I did have to buy my apple peeler/corere/slicer. I could not find one to svae my soul at any antique store or estate sales. LOL. We were Civil War re-enactors and we have all the cast iron and the ironwork to go with it; tripod, cranes, etc. We also have a ton of oil lamps and wicks stuck away too. I also have a 15 cup granite-ware coffee pot. We have a gas stove so we can cook if the power goes out, you just have to light the burners by hand. If you look around at what you have at home, you may be surprised at what you can do in a pinch.

  23. I have 3 spinning wheels newish, and an antique that works. Besides a wheel, one really needs a sheep, unless, like me, you have a room full of wool, and that’s a study all its own. My grandmother had a sad iron that was heated on the gas stove. Actually, she had 2; one getting hot on the stove while you were using the other. I expect Christian refugees to be coming through, so I have 6 30×50 gardens in permaculture and know something about eating wild. At 87, I just gave away 2 excellent milk goats, but if someone comes through who wants to milk I’m sure I can get a goat again. Another indispensable item is a good guard dog to keep raccoons out of the feed and the hens, but, one always hopes there will be no other need for one.

  24. Still use… 1-4-8-9-10

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