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This is the one in an ongoing series about West Concord topics. Would you like to contribute? We are looking for history, culture, personal opinion and experience, photography, artwork, and other West Concord subjects. Email us!Bluine Manufacturing Co.: west concord firm gives meaning to the 'washday blues'
washer womanThe Bluine Manufacturing Company first came to West Concord in 1893. Founded above the West Acton drugstore a little earlier by prominent builder and manufacturer, George Conant, they made a terribly pedestrian -- but much in demand -- product: laundry bluing.

Bluine Manufacturing eventually occupied 20 Beharrell Street (the building now housing Minuteman Printing and a variety of other businesses), though it previously was on Commonwealth Avenue and at other locations as well. Twenty Beharrell is a three-story, woodframe clapboard building (now with asphalt-siding) typical of that time and purpose.

The 1936 street directory for Concord shows the last entry for this company. It is not known if after that date they moved out of town or went out of business.

What is Laundry Bluing?
Ever notice that many of our modern laundry detergents are blue? This coloration has a useful function: adding a tiny blue tinge to whites make them "whiter than white". Old-fashioned laundry bluing had the same purpose. It came in several forms, the most typical -- and the one you can still buy in some stores today -- was a glass-bottled liquid purchased where household goods were sold, including by itinerant peddlers. It was in widespread use as a laundry additive before the common adoption of modernly-formulated detergents. It is now considered a difficult-to-find item in many communities.

Bluing is made from a water-based colloidal suspension of very finely powdered blue iron. A small amount is added to the wash cycle or final rinse of the laundry to keep whites bright. Before automatic washers, this was often accomplished in a "bluing kettle" in which clothes were briefly dipped and then hung to try.

20 Beharrell Street, West Concord today."Everyone Wants it! You Want it!"
However, the Bluine Manufacturing Co. was innovative in several ways. While others sold liquid in glass bottles, they found they could impregnate ordinary butcher's paper with the bluing using sugar as an adhesive. After the paper had been hung up and finished drying, it was cut into small squares. Wrapped 12 squares to a pack, they were lightweight for shipping and posed no threat of glass breakage.

When it came to distribution, sales methods and sales force motivation, there were further twists. Their sales force consisted of school children. Boys and girls throughout the country (as many as 50,000 in 1900) received their packets via United States mail, selling each 12-pack for a dime. The children received prizes for sales success. For the really accomplished, there were early home movie projectors, bicycles, and b-b guns.*

The children may have sold other merchandise, too. Unfortunately, the Concord Free Public Library's Special Collections holds only one piece of primary material from this company, so further details are not available. It is a letter to their child sales force dated December, 1900. It encourages them to finish selling their "Beauty Pins," tempting those who do with their choice of a "beautiful and valuable ring shown on the enclosed Ring Premium List" worth $1.50. They further sweeten the prize by offering their "'Gem Christmas Casket,' or collection of six elegant and costly pieces of Jewelry..." valued at $2.00. As their literature says of one of these pieces: "It is all the rage! Everyone wants it! You want it!"

Post Office Success Hinges on the Bluine Company
This company had unexpected impact on the local community, particularly in the area of postal service. They had a direct chute to the Concord Junction Post Office around the corner for their outgoing mail. Because they used it to distribute both their product and the children's prizes, the quantity of mail handled at the post office at 85 Commonwealth Avenue was unusually large for a small village. This high volume raised the status of the Junction post office above Concord center's. West Concord customers were therefore served by uniformed postal deliverymen before other Concord residents and businesses earned this privilege.

whiter than white!Other Uses for Laundry Bluing
Bluing also had (and still has) a number of uses outside the laundry. The same whitened look it gave to clothes it also lent to white or grey hair -- it may have been the original "blue rinse." Ditto for the white or grey fur of pets. According to Mrs. Stewart's Bluing, beauty salon use is coming back into vogue today.

Mrs. Stewart's also reports customers use it to relieve the pain of insect bites, clean crystal, as an aid in making sculpture and pottery glazing, for coloring flowers, detecting plumbing leaks, and to give a swimming pool that Caribbean-blue look. A more refined bluing preparation is also used in medical and drug testing to dye tissue samples. Do you remember the Magic Salt Crystal Gardens some used to grow as kids? Right -- bluing was a vital component. Art historians have also traced laundry bluing's use as a paint pigment in African art, it having arrived along with Europeans.

Though it is difficult to tell how many of the above applications were used with the Bluine products, given all the possibilities it does seem hard to see how bluing fell from fashion. But maybe after reading here about all its wonders, you will realize what was once true still is today: "It's all the rage! Everyone wants it! You want it!"

*Bob Carter, formally owner of Carter's furniture in West Concord, was awarded a movie projector for his boyhood Bluine sales. Personal conversation, January, 2002, with Marion Wheeler, Concord historian.

Artwork: Hometown WebsmithArtToday.

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