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History Detective Help Wanted

Bill Warner
December 04, 2019
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Just wanted to say a quick hello to all my regular readers, those in the West and those back in Pennsylvania. Here is a joke intended to make you smile: Seems an old man, one-room school teacher would always say this to his class about two weeks before Christmas, “ I want to thank those of you who have sent Christmas gifts to my house, I really appreciate them.”

If you read this space on a regular schedule, you know that I enjoy hunting for new discoveries. Well, this one has me stumped. I’ve looked at everything I can think of and then some other stuff just because I didn’t know what else to do.

I purchased this tin nameplate or medallion, (whatever you want to call it) at a local antique store last year. I think it would have been soldered on the Clothing Washing Machine. The most important part is the line MNFD. by J.C. Mellinger of Nappanee, Indiana. You likely remember the J.C. Mellinger name. As a reminder, J.C. was John & Frank Coppes’s brother-in-law. He was married to John & Frank’s older sister Lucinda. J.C. Mellinger was also the sawmill owner that John & Frank first began working with in 1876. Then when the business started to boom, the brothers purchased J.C. Mellinger’s share of the business. We know of some of the jobs that J.C. had after the sawmill business. He worked as a teller at the Farmers & Traders Bank and was a partner in a local brick-making company. I’m speculating that J.C. was looking for a business where he could invest some funds. The Washing Machine Company would explain my idea. I’m just guessing here because I have no information beyond this tin medallion.

So, I’m asking for any help, or suggestions you can offer. Have you ever seen a clothing washing machine with a label like this? I searched the Patents for this date and found nothing related to these names on the label. I searched EBAY to see if anyone was selling a washing machine like this one. I did a Google search, but only found some sites that tell about the old-style hand-powered washing machines and have lists of examples. But this is not what I was looking for. In 1891 the home washing machine was the plunger-type of machine: a long handle on a sheet metal device that was worked up & down in the laundry tub. Seems like there were 100s of different types manufactured.


Fast Forward

That was last night. As I sat here rereading this story tonight, I thought I may as well give it another shot. This time I tried Google Patents. Typed in Herrington, 1891 and voila, there was the Herrington patent for a CLOTHES-POUNDER. Now why didn’t I think of that before, maybe I did, don’t remember. So, here is a copy of the patent, which is number 460,966.

A portion of the text for this patent reads “In operation, the clothing or other articles to be washed are placed in the tub or suds box employed with the proper quantity of soap or other cleansing agent and the device lowered upon the clothes and vertically reciprocated.”  Don’t you just love the legalese and patent language that people used in the patent descriptions?

More questions. . .

Now the next task is to find out if this “Clothes Pounder” was ever actually manufactured by J.C. Mellinger. Now remember, this business did not necessarily happen in Nappanee. Nappanee is just where J. C. was living, I could see the situation where J.C. Mellinger purchased an ongoing business located in another city. But again, the existence of the name tags indicates that the “Clothes Pounder” likely, may have been produced. Something else to hunt for in antique stores. I just love this job.

During my searching for J.C. Mellinger information, I found this house picture with the caption “J. C. Mellinger House. This was a picture taken by Nappanee’s famous photographer John Keller and now in the Evelyn Lehman Culp Heritage Collection Photograph Collection. Thanks to the Nappanee center. I suppose that is Lucinda (Coppes) Mellinger setting on the porch. Anyone know where this house was located? Thanks for reading see ya next week.