Do Asgardians use Thor Automagics to wash their dishes and clothing?

Media
A Thor Automagic combined dishwasher and washing machine. Anon., “Advertising – Thor Canadian Company Limited.” La Patrie, 20 November 1948, 4.

Greetings, my reading friend, and welcome to the wonderful world of aviation and space. Today’s topic, as you undoubtedly know by now, is an unconventional dual purpose household appliance yours truly stumbled across while perusing, a virtual perusing actually, the pages of the 20 November 1948 issue of La Patrie, a daily newspaper published in Montréal, Québec.

I know, I know, a combined dishwasher and washing machine has little to do with the aforementioned world of aviation and space. Still, you must admit that the Thor Automagic was a pretty cool piece of kit. Besides, unlike his adopted brother Loki Laufeysson, Asgardian Thor Odinsson, played by Christopher “Chris” Hemsworth in the eponymous movie series, can fly, sort of, which means that this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee does include an aviation and space element after all, sort of.

As well, one could argue that the electric washing machine, a ubiquitous and supremely convenient device if there was ever one, was / is one of the 100 inventions that changed the world, if not one of the 100 greatest inventions of all times.

You may be pleased to hear (read?), or not, that the Automagic was not the first combined dishwasher and washing machine to be put forward. One can imagine that inventors wanted to help families and… All right, all right, let’s be honest here, they wanted to help housewives deal with the drudgery of house work without having to buy 2 separate devices, especially if said family lived in somewhat cramped quarters. Such families would of course be relatively / quite well off, because dishwashers and washing machines were not the sort of items a working class family living in North America or, even more so, Europe could afford to buy until after / well after the Second World War.

In 1890, Margaret A. Wilcox, an American mechanical engineer, one of the first female engineers in the United States if truth be told, submitted one of the first, if not the first patent application for a combined dishwasher and washing machine. It looks as if this household appliance was not put in production. This being said (typed?), Wilcox gained fame, and rightfully so, for inventing the first practical automobile heating system. She also invented several stoves, including a combined cooking and water heating one. And yes, inventors and inventions were the main topic of an October 2018 article of our blog / bulletin / thingee. You may remember that one of the inventions mentioned in this article was a washing machine which could also wash and dry dishes, peel potatoes and mix dough.

What’s this, my reading friend? You can no longer wait to know more about the Automagic? Really? Let’s go then. As yours truly is wont to do, I would like to plunge into our topic with an origin story – something that the superhero enthusiast hidden deep within you, yes, you, will undoubtedly appreciate. The Automagic was made by the Hurley Machine Division of Electric Household Utilities Corporation. To make a short story long, a specialty of yours truly as you painfully know by now, companies linked to the Hurley family had a long and convoluted history. Indeed, if you come across information that contradicts what is written (typed?) below, forever hold your peace, please. Just kidding. Just kidding. If you do come across such information, or information that may improve any article published in our blog / bulletin / thingee for that matter, please do not hesitate to drop me a line. Please. I mean it.

Our saga, no Viking pun intended, began in the United States, in 1893-94, with the creation of Aurora Automatic Machinery Company. Would you believe that this company was set up by, no, not a member of the Hurley family? It was set up by 2 Swedish Americans. This manufacturer of bicycle parts sold its production to many bicycle makers.

In 1901, a bicycle manufacturing firm by the name of Henlee Manufacturing Company shipped 1 of the 3 motorcycles it had just completed to Aurora Automatic Machinery. Several months later, presumably in 1902, the latter completed a new motorcycle engine designed by one of the founders of Henlee Manufacturing. Aurora Automatic Machinery agreed to sell these engines to its partner. While it agreed not to produce motorcycles, the company indicated it wanted to sell engines to other motorcycle makers in exchange for royalties paid to Henlee Manufacturing. Given the limited capabilities of its partner, Aurora Automatic Machinery also began to produce motorcycle parts.

Did you know that the brand name Henlee Manufacturing used to commercialise its motorcycles was Indian? These motorcycles proved so successful that the company changed its name to Indian Motocycle Company in 1923, and yes, that’s Motocycle without an R. Indian Motocycle was one of the most famous motorcycle manufacturers of the 20th century.

In 1903 Aurora Automatic Machinery allegedly founded a motorcycle and / or bicycle parts making company that included the name Thor. The word “allegedly” may well be crucial here, my reading friend. While yours truly cannot dispute the thoroughness of the people who came up with this information, I also cannot dispute the existence of Thor motorcycle ads that mentioned Aurora Automatic Machinery and no other company. So, did a motorcycle and / or bicycle parts making subsidiary of Aurora Automatic Machinery that included the name Thor actually exist? Your guess is as good as mine. This uncertainty is very frustrating if I may say so. An executive decision is needed. Let us therefore assume that the motorcycle and / or bicycle parts making company had no legal existence. No more uncertainty. I feel better already.

In any event, the use of the name Thor was hardly surprising given the origin of Aurora Automatic Machinery’s founders. Indeed, it is possible / likely that this company began to use the trade name Thor before the end of the 19th century to boost the sale of products that had nothing to do with bicycles or motorcycles. Given your familiarity with Germanic / Norse mythology, my reading friend, you undoubtedly know that Thor was a sky god with power over rain, thunder and wind. As such, he was a being associated with strength and power, 2 concepts that a company could use in the advertising it put out to sell its products.

At first, Aurora Automatic Machinery made every part needed to make motorcycles but did not actually sell complete ones. Before long, at least half a dozen small companies burst into life to sell motorcycles made from parts made, in fact, by Aurora Automatic Machinery. At some point, this company built a single example of an automobile that proved too big to safely negotiate city streets.

In 1908, Aurora Automatic Machinery set up a network of dealerships and began to produce complete motorcycles, without stopping to make and sell parts from the looks of it. This situation has been / is / will continue to be a source of frustration for historians and restorers trying to figure out the identity of many century old motorcycles. Is the vehicle in front of them a Thor, a Thor clone or an Indian?

Would you believe that people, all right, all right, young men, perusing catalogues issued by Sears, Roebuck and Company both before and during the First World War, could buy a motorcycle fitted with a Thor engine, or some other engine perhaps, and have it sent by mail?

In 1909, Aurora Automatic Machinery set up a racing team that did pretty well. The departure of its head, in 1913, may have ended this venture. The individual in question, William “Bill” Ottaway, a Canadian who had studied mechanical engineering before going to the United States, became the head of the racing team of Harley-Davidson Motor Company – a firm that needs no introduction. This racing team soon became one of the best, if not the best in the United States. And yes, Harley-Davidson Motor was mentioned, and no more than that, in an August 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Yours truly is pleased to inform you that a Thor motorcycle was used in Mabel at the Wheel, a 1914 film co-directed by Mabel Ethelreid Normand, a well known actress, and Mack Sennett, born Michael Sinnott, a very well known Canadian American director / producer of the silent film era. Normand shared the limelight with a relatively unknown British actor and friend whose career she helped to launch. Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin played, no, not the world famous tramp we all know and love. He actually played a villain who successfully prevented Mabel’s boyfriend from competing in an automobile race. Our heroine thus had to take the wheel. Better yet, she won the race, but I digress. So, back to our story.

In the spring of 1905, a firm by the name of Independent Pneumatic Tool Company acquired Aurora Automatic Machinery. Production of electric tools, especially drills, soon began. And yes, the trade name Thor was used fairly early on to describe both the pneumatic and electric tools that the companies produced.

Independent Pneumatic Tool and Aurora Automatic Machinery merged in March 1918 to form a new and improved Independent Pneumatic Tool Company. Well aware that motorcycle sales were seriously declining, the management moved the assembly line from one of its facilities to another. Independent Pneumatic Tool put a halt to motorcycle production in 1920. It is, however, possible that the assembly line had been all but idle for months before that date. It is worth noting that Independent Pneumatic Tool had (manufacturing?) branches in Canada, more specifically Montréal, Québec, and Toronto, Ontario.

Do you have something to say (type?), my reading friend? Is it true that Independent Pneumatic Tool was the first company to mass produce an electric screwdriver, in 1920? A good question, say I. The answer to that question appears to be, well, no. Black & Decker Manufacturing Company, a name many (most?) of you should be familiar with, seemingly put the first electric screwdriver on the market, in 1923.

Recognising the visibility of the trade name Thor, Independent Pneumatic Tool became Thor Power Tool Company in 1953. In 1964, Stewart-Warner Corporation, an American engineering and manufacturing company, announced it was taking over the firm. It soon rescinded the purchase agreement, however, claiming that Thor Power Tool had understated its liabilities and overstated its assets. Even so, Stewart-Warner continued to advise the company. One of its executives even became president of Thor Power Tool before the end of 1964. As the years went by, Stewart-Warner acquired a majority of its shares. The name Thor Power Tool seemingly vanished around 1988. Dare one say that the company went to Valhalla, or is it Asgard? Apologies, I digress. Interestingly enough, a British conglomerate, BTR Public Limited Company, took over Stewart-Warner in 1987. One has to wonder if the latter’s name did not disappear around 1988 as well.

What does any of this have to do with the combined dishwasher and washing machine at the heart of this article, you ask, my perplexed but not yet annoyed reading friend? Fear not, we’re getting there. At some point in the early 1900s, 2 brothers related to an individual involved with Aurora Automatic Machinery formed a company by the name of, no, not Thor. These individuals named their creation after themselves. Hurley Machine Company produced washing machines, among other things. It became a subsidiary of the aforementioned and newly created Electric Household Utilities at some point during the 1920s. Hurley Machine seemingly became a division of its parent company at some later date, and…

Do you have something else to say (type?)? Is it true that Hurley Machine was the first company to mass produce an electric washing machine? Another good question, say I. The answer to that question appears to be, well, no. While it is true that Hurley Machine had a Thor, yes Thor, electric washing machine ready for production at some point in 1908, in the fall perhaps, if one believed the postmark on a photo postcard, another American firm beat it to the punch. A photo of the machine developed by “1900” Washer Company appeared in the July-December 1907 issue of The Arena, a liberal literary and political magazine. Better yet, an illustrated pamphlet issued by that company may have been published in late 1906, early 1907.

How about Alva Josiah Fisher, you ask, my puzzled reading friend? His name was / is mentioned in quite a few articles, books and webpages, after all. Isn’t he the inventor of the electric washing machine? Well, from the looks of it, this American did not actually claim to have invented the machine of Monday, as this device was / is sometimes called. And yes, Fisher designed the first electric washing machines made by Hurley Machine. In any event, various American companies were selling small electric motors that could be connected to hand cranked washing machines no later than 1901.

A bit of Canadian content may be of interest at this particular point in time. Thor Canadian Company Limited was formed in Toronto in 1926. This firm had a subsidiary / office in Montréal. It may have manufactured washing machines during the 1930s. Before and after that date, Thor Canadian seemingly served as a distributing arm of its parent company. Newly formed Thor Industries Limited took it over in late 1955. Incidentally, Thor washing machines may, I repeat may, have been made under licence in the United Kingdom, by Hurley Machine Company (England) Limited.

As you may well imagine, the fact that many, if not most of the companies mentioned in this article used the trade name Thor to describe their products, even though the washing machine maker seemingly had no financial or corporate link with the other firms mentioned above, has caused / is causing / will continue to cause a fair amount of confusion, but back to our story. And yes, the time has now come to talk (read?) about the Thor Automagic. Yaaaay!

The Automagic was seemingly put on the market no later than early 1947. Indeed, a Thor Canadian representative demonstrated an early example of this machine in Montréal in March of that year. This being said (typed?), the Automagic was not manufactured in Canada, at least as far as yours truly can tell.

The name of this combined top loading dishwasher and washing machine was an example of the clever work done by advertising firms to sell to consumers the products of their clients. The words Thor and Automagic hinted at the ability of this household appliance to eliminate the drudgery and hard work inherent in the washing of clothes and dishes. As was / is / will be the case with many other examples of clever advertising, the ads for the Automagic were spouting BLANK. All right, all right, they were selling an illusion. Anyone operating one of these machines knew how much hard work was involved.

Say (type?) no more my reading friend. I know how much you wish to know how the engineers at the Hurley Machine Division of Electric Household Utilities managed to build a machine that could wash clothes and dishes. They did so by having 2 interchangeable tubs that could be swapped depending on what needed to be washed. Indeed, it looked as if families could buy an Automagic with only 1 of the interchangeable tubs. The second one could be bought later, or never.

You may be pleased to hear (read?) that the Thor trademark was acquired by Thor Appliance Company, seemingly in the early 2000s. This American maker of washing machines and dryers was still in existence in 2018. Incidentally, an indirect descendant of “1900” Washer was also still in existence in 2018. It was / is known as Whirlpool Corporation.

Yours truly is pleased to inform you that the collection of the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, includes an Automagic. And that’s it for today. Ta ta for now.

What’s this? You want to know what the Thor Automagic Gladiron was / is? I have no idea of what you are …Oh, now I remember. The Gladiron was / is the small object at the bottom of the ad we saw at the beginning of this article. So, what we have here is a mangle, in other words a device used for pressing water out of freshly washed clothes by squeezing them between 2 rollers. Introduced around 1947-48, the electrically operated Gladiron was simpler than certain other similar mangles of the time. And now that’s really it for today.

Author(s)
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Rénald Fortier