As re-enactors of the old west I feel that over the last few years we have become to clean and well dressed. Like most of society I believe we have become disposable and no longer repair our gear neither patching or making do as we used to.
Nowadays we replace and renew far to quickly and much sooner than we ever did in the past.
I would appreciate your views on this subject, currently we re-enactors in the UK are discussing this very subject and at this time 85% believe we are too clean.
Too clean? Yes, I always think that when I see re-enactors. I'm talking dirt and stains, not patches. If Spray-N-Wash, hand scrubbing, bleach, and/or a modern washing machine can't get every stain out, people years ago couldn't, either. And they couldn't afford to make rags of everything that got stained.
Anthony, how were men's wool and linen suits cleaned back then? Were they mainly spot cleaned, brushed and aired out? I know modern suits and their interfacing would shrink or warp out of shape if washed.
Up to about 1950sh a man's suit had an internal construction of lamb's wool,linen,a bit of haircloth and tailor's canvas and very costly bespoke tailored suits are still constructed that way.All of these items were carefully preshrunk and shaped.Usually only lightweight(relatively speaking)summer suits in cotton or linen was washed back then by hand.With woolens there were several options for clening and freshening-spot sponging with clear water and a bit of soap,naptha,either as fluid or in naptha soap for taking care of greasy areas,using salt,cedar sawdust,dried herbs or flowers and other natural ingredients for imparting freshness and just employing lots more careful brushing and pressing.Men and women made use of collar liners and underarm sheilds to minimize perspiration damage.Some of the coarser woolens,jean's wool(a denim style weave in cotton /wool blend ),moleskin and other hard wearing fabrics were very good coming out of the wash.
I got to thinking more on the subject of clothes cleaning and realized that I neglected to mention two early cleaning fluids.Alcohol (either grain or wood)was employed as a cleaning agent although spot checking for color fastness was recommended.My favorite though is gasoline!When crude oil refining began in the 1850's one of the byproducts of obtaining lamp oil (kerosene)was gasoline,which was regarded as a largely useless distillate as it was too volitile to use in early indoor lighting.It was,however,used for early outdoor lighting if handled with caution.By about 1890 it's use extended to heating,improved and safer indoor lighting and the burgeoning internal combustion engine demand.However for much of the intervening years it was widely employed in fabric cleaning.I find myself wondering just how many household and commercial laundry establishments were speeded to an early,fiery demise with folks cleaning clothes with the stuff near steam equipment or stoves used to keep irons hot!
I can well imagine old John D. Rockefeller's delight when the burgeoning automotive industry created a big demand for a distillate largely thought of as of very limited application.Gasoline, which sold for about three cents a gallon in the late 1880's "shot up' to about seven cents per gallon by 1897 largely for use in stationary engines.By 1905 demand was twentyfold what it had been even ten years before.Imagine when it was thought of as essentially worthless(ca 1850's-to the mid 1880's) with the limited uses I've cited.Refineries used to burn it off or dump large quantities of it as they had so much of the stuff!
One of my favorite pictures that show how we are too clean was taken of a grocery store in Overton Nebraska in 1904 by Solomon Butcher:
The "dirt" is most likely flour it's hard to tell but there appear to also be patches on or near both knees.
Kinda reminds me of a picture of me from July although I was making homemade noodles and not selling bulk flour:
Yes, this is the kind of dirt I mean. That man in the old photo has dark stains on both pant legs, and the dust could be flour, or sawdust from the vegetable packing, or dirt that the vegetables had on them.
You can also see the horizontal creases that develop across the top of the pants, and sometimes vests, when those clothes are worn day after day, and not pressed.
Thanks Anthony, for the info on cleaning suits. I love hearing about these small details.
Are you thinking they used gasoline for tough stains, but then they must have had to use soap to clean off the gasoline, because it is oily itself?
By the 1890s Sears was selling gasoline-powered cookstoves & I have seen a gasoline-powered iron for ironing clothes. Apparently it worked on the same principle as the immersion heaters used to heat water in the chowline when I was in the army.
I've got an acetylene-powered iron from my mother's collection & I've seen what was apparently a natural-gas powered iron. Since acetylene smokes like green wood I don't figure how it could be used to iron clothes, but apparently it was. I've also got a couple of charcoal-powered irons from Mom's collection.
First when you think gasoline, think Coleman, the gasoline of the time was more like what we know today as Coleman fuel.
Acetylene burns very clean if you get enough O2 to it, think miners caps and torches for welding and cutting.
Yep,old fashioned white gasoline-pretty much is Coleman fuel.We used to use Coleman in a 1/2 horsepower small motor from the early 1900's because it ran "more naturally " on it than on the modern stuff.
In answer to Gold Lady's last query-yes ,gasoline was used as a first stage cleaner in conjunction with soaps.
I own old carbide miner's, bicycle and auto lamps and they work very efficiently.In the early 1900's the gas was even used to provide the light for magic lanterns and movie projectors.Some rural homes even had their own gas generating plant in the basement to supply lighting fixtures.
This is typical of the sort of thing that happened all too often.What was the date on this? Thanks for sharing this.
Gasoline vapor is heavier than air & will travel a long way. On a hot, humid, windless day it will hug the area in which it begins to form. My dad was a fireman in Austin, Texas for 20 yrs, so I learned a lot about gasoline & its perils. A half pint of gasoline--just 8 oz--vaporized in a 10x12 room w/an 8ft ceiling, willl explode with the force of 2 1 lb sticks of 60% nitro dynamite. The spark produced in an ordinarly light switch when you turn it on is enough to set the stuff off.