Eriksmoen: This North Dakotan made laundry day much simpler by inventing the automatic clothes dryer
In today's "Did You Know That" column, Curt shares how a young James Moore was inspired to improve the drying process in North Dakota while watching his mother struggle to hang clothes outside on a cold winter day.
On a cold, windy, winter day in North Dakota, young James Moore watched his mother struggle to get the laundry hung on the clothesline outside of the family home in Devils Lake. Moore later said, “I could not bear to see my mother have to endure this, so I rigged up a gasoline-driven washer and (a) drying room in our home.” He then began to plan on how to construct “a mechanical device which (would) successfully dry clothes.”
At that time, Moore didn’t know exactly how the design of the device would look or how it would work, but he never gave up on the idea of developing it. Thirty years later, he built a working model and, in 1936, registered his invention with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Two years later, his “June Day” electric clothes dryer was on the U.S. market, and it soon became a valuable appliance in many American households.
The clothes dryer allowed people to dry their laundry in the comfort of their own home. Prior to Moore’s invention, most people dried their laundry by hanging the recently washed, wet items on a clothesline that was strung across a portion of their yard. There was considerable uncertainty about having to hang your clothes outside. If it rained or there was a threat of rain, most people delayed doing their laundry. If it was too windy, or subject to heavy gusts of wind, there was the possibility of laundry being ripped loose from the clothesline — or worse, the entire line might become dislodged from its moorings and end up being dragged across the lawn.
While the laundry was on the clothesline, it was subject to bird droppings, pollen buildup on clothing that would affect people with allergies or extended periods of direct sunlight that could fade brightly-colored items. It was also not uncommon for a playful puppy to grab hold of a long piece of laundry hanging from the line and either pull it off the line or rip it in the process.
Finally, not everyone had access to a lawn to even put up a clothesline. This was especially true for tenants in apartment complexes and college students who lived in dorms. Most of the people who did not have an outdoor clothesline or who were prevented from hanging their laundry outside, because of weather-related conditions, hung their laundry inside.
The room in which the laundry was most often hung was in the basement. Unfortunately, this often resulted in the laundry not being completely dry when it was put away or worn, and the clothing would often have a musty smell. Also, the high humidity that accumulated in the drying room became a perfect incubator for health-threatening mold. Moore’s revolutionary invention significantly reduced these issues.
James Ross Moore, better known as J. Ross Moore, was born Aug. 22, 1886, in Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada, on the north shore of Lake Erie, to Thomas and Mary (Clark) Moore. James attended elementary school in Villa Nova and then went to high school at the Hamilton Collegiate Institute, the oldest high school in Hamilton, Ontario. Records show that Thomas Moore and his family immigrated to the U.S. in January of 1901 and settled in Devils Lake, where Thomas became a farmer and, later, a rural postmaster. Mary Moore taught school in Devils Lake for 17 years.
According to a census report, J. Ross Moore completed two years of college and became self-employed as an “engineer” in Devils Lake. In 1907, he married Jennie Arville Homan, and they had six children. In 1919 J. Ross Moore and his family, along with his parents, moved to northeastern Pennsylvania, where from 1920 to 1930 he worked as an engineer at the Lowell Manufacturing Co. in Erie, Pa. Lowell was a company that specialized in making “bed springs, (and) mouse and rat traps.” It was while Moore was working for Lowell that he was finally able to lay out the design for a workable clothes dryer.
In 1930, Moore resigned from his position at Lowell and moved to Minneapolis to begin promoting his new invention. It was apparently his belief that his best market for a clothes dryer was in an area that experienced frigid temperatures during the winter. Before submitting his patent, Moore decided to work on a couple of improvements, and on April 23, 1936, he filed an application for his invention with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Prior to Moore’s invention, there were a couple of different devices on the market that were used for drying clothes, the Pochon and Sampson, which were expensive to operate, took up a large space, were inefficient to operate, created unbearable heat and sometimes caused the laundry to catch fire. When the laundry was dry, it “smelled of smoke and occasionally was dusted in soot.”
The devices were large metal drums with holes drilled in it, and the heat was provided by an open fire or else it was placed next to a large stove. The Pochon had a hand crank to rotate the drum, and the Sampson was motorized.
In his patent application, Moore addressed his major improvements over the previous dryers. He wrote, “The primary object is to provide a machine which is not only comparatively simple and practical in construction, but which is also efficient and economical in operation and will produce a maximum drying action with a minimum expenditure of heat volume or energy. It does not require a direct circulation of preheated air through the chamber or basket containing the clothes or other materials to be dried, but rather heats the contents of the chamber, to accelerate vaporization of the moisture to be removed, meanwhile tumbling the articles to be dried in such manner that all parts are subjected to the heat.”
Although costly, Moore’s dryer was more affordable to operate than the previous dryers, took up minimal space and was relatively safe from being a fire hazard. Another benefit of Moore’s dryer was that the heat killed “many parasites, including house dust mites, bedbugs and ticks, as well as their eggs.”
Moore helped to establish a company in Minneapolis to manufacture and sell his dryers, but since it was at the height of the Great Depression, sales did not materialize. “A salesman suggested (that Moore contact) the Hamilton Manufacturing Company” in Two Rivers, Wis. The executives at Hamilton were interested, but Moore would have to turn his patent over to them, and in return, he would become part of the management at Hamilton.
Moore moved to Two Rivers, and in 1938, Hamilton began marketing Moore’s “June Day” dryer. Up until World War II, his dryer was "the only modern clothes dryer marketed in the U.S.”
Between 1938 and 1941, Hamilton sold about 6,000 dryers, and at a cost of $230 per dryer (over $4,000 today), the company made a nice profit. After World War II, many larger appliance companies began making clothes dryers, and Hamilton’s role decreased.
J. Ross Moore died in Two Rivers on Oct. 18, 1963.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.