While cranking your own washer may not sound so convenient, it beat the old method of scrubbing a shirt over a washboard and pounding it with a rock.
The first hand-cranked models appeared around the turn of the century, although Maytag placed a small electric motor on a model as early as 1911 [source: Maytag Collectors Club]. The company produced some models before 1920 that had two options for power: electrical power, or batteries for homes without electricity. Many early models had an attached hand-cranked wringer to cut down the time spent on the clothesline. From the 1920s through the 1940s, households could choose between electrical and gas-powered engines to agitate the laundry.
Of course, despite the rows of shiny, space age front-loaded laundry appliances on display in the home stores, the hand-cranked washer is making a small comeback. A few new models are being marketed as a money-saving, socially conscious way to manage the laundry.