Ceil Chapman Sells Washing Machines

Better Homes and Gardens, October 1956

Better Homes and Gardens, October 1956. Click to enlarge

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.

Chapman5Chapman, 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?

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3 Responses to Ceil Chapman Sells Washing Machines

  1. eimear says:

    funny how things come around. I will machine wash a lot of stuff, but equally will handwash the clothes that need special care (and this does not bother me). whereas a lot of people I know will still bauk at the idea of handwashing and somehow think it doesnt get things as clean as the washing machine.

  2. My heart skips a beat at the idea of putting a Ceil Chapman into my washing machine! The very idea. Ha!

  3. The statistic about only 38% owning a washing machine surprised me. At first I thought, “More people rented than owned their own home,” but that probably wasn’t true of Better Homes and Gardens readers. I collect old washing machine advertisements because I remember our 1950’s washer — a labor-intensive 1930’s model with a wringer (called a mangle) on top. One of our neighbors “took in washing,” which she did in her “wash house.” One of the oldest buildings in town was the Chinese laundry (now preserved.) Given the price of the new washers and low wages for women in the 1950’s, it was probably cheaper to send your laundry out and just do the lingerie yourself. Sheets returned ironed and tied in neat bundles. The embroidered pillowcases I inherited from my aunt all have indelible ink laundry marks on them, as did her husband’s shirts. “No starch in the collar” was an often-heard comedy line. Diaper services were also available. In London in the 2000’s, we found that most laundromats had a wash and fold service. You dropped off your wash and picked it up later. (There was no extra charge for ruining your American permanently pressed clothes….)

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