Celebrating George Birthington’s Washday

Now in its 50th year, Americans celebrate the first official laundry day of that historic figure widely known as George Birthington by singing old hymns such as Shall We Gather at the River.

For foreigners who might never have heard of this time-honored tradition, allow me to expound. Apparently, the young Birthington and some of his compatriots had become knackered waiting at each week’s end for their knickers hung to dry in a humid summer breeze.

sketch 1-washboard-1870-grangerAnd, having become ever more depressed by the noticeable rust stains put upon their brighty whiteys from deteriorated tin washboards, Birthington led his band (including his long-time pal Ken Moore) to engineer the first known wringer washer.

With high hopes, the crew changed the trajectory of future clothing cleaning while unknowingly unleashing a shift from function to fashion. No longer would the world require merely weekly wear and Sunday best. An outfit for each weekday became the norm, and yes, even different outfits for various functions and activities.

Once it became apparent that the wringer washer sped the process from dirty to clean, some critics challenged it for its wear and tear on the fibers of individual apparel pieces. Garment sellers  realized the Achilles’ heel and began to encourage fashion designers to produce garb in layers of flimsy material to bolster sales. And so we raise a glass to toast George and his pals singing loudly on key and in unison:

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

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