The country’s last remaining washboard factory brings business – and music – to Logan, Ohio
Tucked between the hills of Hocking County, Logan is home to the country’s last remaining washboard factory. Business there is booming.
Stepping into the Columbus Washboard Company is like stepping back in time.
The walls are lined with antique washboards – their fading “Made-Rite” logos disappearing into sun-kissed wood. Beneath them sit vintage irons, metal wash tubs and an early model of a laundry agitator.
The antiques are remnants of the past, but in the present, business at the Columbus Washboard Company is booming. As the last remaining washboard manufacturer in the country, its products dominate the market.
The tool is just as functional as ever, said Jacqui Barnett, a co-owner of the company.
“This side is your scratchy side, which is good for brass stains and socks and underarm deodorant spots and that type of thing,” she said, holding up one of the washboards and giving it a rub before flipping it over. “This side is softer and rounded and that's for your lingerie. In the olden days they would wash their nylons on this.”
It’s a product her company has made for more than a century.
The Columbus Washboard Company was founded in 1895 in Columbus, Ohio. At its peak in the 1940s, it produced millions of washboards each year.
An agitating force
When the washing machine was invented and widely adopted, it sent washboard factories through the wringer.
By the mid-'70s, every other washboard company in the U.S. had closed, and in 1999, the Columbus Washboard Company seemed destined to meet the same fate.
“What happens when a company is closed like that?” Barnett said. “All of the old equipment gets destroyed.”
Barnett and her husband couldn’t stand to let that happen.
“We decided right there and then that we should purchase the company and move it to Logan, Ohio,” she said.
And that’s where it’s been ever since.
Making the washboards
Over the years, the company has hired a number of employees to assemble the washboards.
Lisa Jarrell is one of four who still works there today.
She’s been making washboards for 17 years, carefully fitting wood and metal parts together like they’re pieces of a puzzle.
“I'm starting out by taking the top of the washboard, the head, and attaching the side, the leg at the finger joint,” she explained. “And then press the pieces together. And tap the pieces together.”
Jarrell uses original equipment – some of it more than a hundred years old – to assemble about 100 washboards each day.
And there is demand for that many washboards, Barnett said.
“We’ve been really amazed about who wants washboards,” she said. “Turns out, everybody.”
Logan’s annual Washboard Arts and Music Festival
Most people no longer use the tool for washing. Barnett thinks the majority sold nowadays are decorative.
But about a quarter of them have another purpose.
Decked out with bells and whistles – and spoons – washboards are still used by musicians around the world.
This weekend, dozens of those musicians are descending on Logan for the community’s annual Washboard Arts and Music Festival.
Barnett said the festival draws upwards of 12,000 visitors every year.
It’s just another reason why Barnett believes in keeping the Columbus Washboard Company alive: to make our lives – and our clothes – a little brighter.
Watch architectural historian Jeff Darbee tours the Columbus Washboard Company for WOSU TV's Columbus Neighborhoods.