A few weeks ago Kathleen and I found a really neat little red antique retractable clothesline holder by Handy Things Manufacturing Company. These are also referred to as clothesline reels, since they often look similar to a fishing reel. The antique retractable clothesline holders were really popular in the 40’s – 70’s, during the times when dryers were still a luxury item. In the states electrical clothes dryers appeared around 1915, but were not really massed produced until 1935. As more and more people came to use the clothes dryer, retractable clothesline reels became less popular.
These antique retractable clothesline reels still are very useful, even today. Many condos and apartments, like the one we currently live in, simply don’t have the space for a washer/dryer setup, so renters are often having to dry wet cloths in the bathroom by hanging them on a towel holder. With limited space, having a retractable line really makes it much easier to wash clothes by hand and then hang them to dry. We also do quite a bit of working out, so having a place to dry workout clothes also makes life easier.
Recently we have noticed a few retractable clothesline reels that are replicas made to look like vintage antique Acme and Handy Things reels. These are often called vintage reproduction or antique reproduction. They come with simulated rust and wear stains, that make them appear old and aged. This is becoming a problem in general with antiques, where Asian imports are making all sorts of items appear antique.
Acme and Handy Things retractable clothesline Reels look very similar in design. Both have the double string pull. Both come in fun colors like red and blue. They both are made from what appears to be pressed steel (Also used for vintage toys). Older clothesline reel models used a single string pull method. The double string pull adds extra strength to the line by having two strings vs one. The strings can be attached to a wall using a hook. The line is then tightened with the crack arm until enough tension is supplied. The crank arm is then locked into place using the gearing mechanism lock.
Handy Things Manufacturing Company is probably best know for making Christmas tree stands in the 70’s and then later being on EPA’s list of polluters. A suite was filed against Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation, the corporate successor to Handy Things Manufacturing. A settlement was reached for the tune of $525,000. Environmental pollution and ground contamination was a big problem with many older manufacturing plants throughout the 20th century.
The earliest patented US clothesline reel that we could find dates back to the 1860’s (US84919). John Valentine and Henry B. Stevens were the inventors out of Buffalo, New York. It appears there were probably others since the patent refers to the wording “improved clothesline reel”, but doing a patent search didn’t find any earlier dates.
A more common early version of the retractable clothesline hanger was called Dustless Clothesline Reel by Fuer Ready patented Feb 3, 1914. We found a patent for this date (US1086118) and it appears that it was invented by George E Alexander and submitted on March 8, 1913.
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