Whirlpool’s decision to close Maytag facilities in Newton is the final chapter in a story that began in that city just about a century ago. An exhibit in the Jasper County Historical Museum declares that Newton is the “Washing Machine Capital of the World.” Bev Cross, the museum’s executive director, says at one time, there were six different washing machine companies in Newton. That was in 1911. “They have all just either moved out or gone defunct,” Cross says.
It was Maytag that remained the mainstay in Newton for decades, but now Whirlpool is gradually closing Maytag’s operations in Newton, with the last washers and dryers expected to come out of the Newton production plant sometime next year. The museum has an extensive Maytag display and some archived items.
Cross says there’s been a steady stream of Maytag stuff trickling into the museum over the years. “Ever once in a while we’ll get a phone call and they’ll say ‘Do you want so and so, or do you want pictures?’ or that kind of thing. We have several file drawers full of pictures,” Cross says. “We have lots of blueprints…I don’t know with the final clean-out if they’re going to think of us or not.”
Seventy-year-old John Daehler of Newton is one of three Maytag descendants still living in Newton. He says the only valuable piece of history he thinks is still at Maytag headquarters is a large wooden mural. “It’s kind of a Newton history,” he says. “That’s probably why it should be saved.” But as for saving the company, Daehler ridicules politicians who dangled incentives in front of Whirlpool to try to keep some Maytag operations in Newton.
Daehler says those politicians were a bit like someone who goes to a funeral and tries to resuscitate the embalmed corpse. Daehler says the company’s closure was a “foregone conclusion.” “I’m sure that everything that has been done, was announced or will be announced probably was figured out long before Whirlpool actually possibly even made the offer to buy the company,” Daehler says.
Daehler’s mother was a Maytag, the daughter of Theodore Maytag who was the brother of F.L. Maytag. It was F.L. who founded the company and was its main salesman, according to Daehler, but Theodore was involved as well. Daehler says there’s “plenty of blame to go around” for the company’s closing. He blames past managers who branched out into other ventures beyond just making Maytag washers and dryers. He does not blame Whirlpool, the new owner. “I think this is just a sign of the times,” Daehler says. “I realize any industry, you know, they have to produce a product that they can sell.”
The director of the Jasper County Museum says folks from the Maytag headquarters in Newton called her “just the other day” to ask for a special tour of the museum’s Maytag display. “They were going to bring some Whirlpool employees out to view the history,” Cross says. The tour never happened.
The State Historical Society in Des Moines has nearly ever model of Maytag washer produced through the 1960s, but not much else about the company. The Jasper County Historical Museum has become the “repository” for all things Maytag, according to Cross. The museum display shows the 1907 “Pasttime” which was the first hand-washer Maytag marketed as well as the newest Maytag Neptune, an energy-saving model.
At the beginning of the last century, Cross says getting a washing machine made a huge difference for a household because the invention saved huge amounts of time for women who’d slaved over their family’s laundry. The display in the museum was set up by the Maytag company a few years ago, and features the company’s washing machines in historical context with clothing nearby and even a phone to show the period in which each machine was marketed. You can learn more about the Maytag historical exhibit on-line at www.jaspercountymuseum.org.
Related web sites:
See more about the Maytag exhibit