You would think that automatic washing machines would be an easy sell, since they saved so much work. However, if the ads I saw in four issues of Better Homes and Gardens from 1956 were any indication, women took a lot of convincing. According to the magazine’s own statistics, only 38% of their readers owned an automatic washer. Even less, 15.5%, owned a dryer.
Cost must have been a big impediment. According to US Department of Commerce Statistics, the median income for men in 1956 was $3600.00. One deluxe washer and dryer set cost almost $500 dollars in 1953. But if you read the ads carefully, worries about quality were also a concern.
In this advertisement for a Philco washer, high fashion designer Ceil Chapman is brought in to endorse the new technology. She is billed as a “famous fashion designer and fabric expert,” and it is the latter category that gets most of the attention. In the ad copy, Chapman reassures women that the new Philco washer would safely handle the new miracle fibers and blends without harmful strain. At the same time it could get even the dirtiest work clothes clean.
Chapman, in her mid forties in this photo, was best known as a designer of deluxe evening wear for celebrities. She does not appear to be someone who did her own laundry–take a look at those pearls. I will bet that she didn’t put any of her own dresses into a washing machine. Would most Better Homes and Gardens readers recognize her name? And would they notice that she has a pencil, not a cigarette, in her hand?