In case you had the notion that this piece is written about the King of Pop, allow me to clarify… It is the 14th Anniversary of the Clean India Journal and as anniversaries go, it is a moment to walk down memory lane. This essay is dedicated to the humble carpet beater — the long-forgotten precursor of the dignified box sweeper, the subsequent vacuum cleaner and the hi-tech carpet cleaning machines of modern times.
In early times, most houses in the Western World had wooden floors which were covered by rugs. To clean these rugs, they had to be taken outdoors and beaten. And so, the carpet beater was born… a cleaning tool (and more) which played a major role in the housekeeping of that era. Associated with an unpleasant chore as it was, this tool was an intertwined wire or wicker attached to a handle that was not easy to wield when it was invented. The flat piece required the user to turn contortionist in order to be able to beat the carpet. With the advent of ergonomics, the improved design with the handle of the beater raised allowed for the user to stand angled at a distance while beating the carpet. Once the ergonomics was taken care of, designers upped their creativity adding on decorative flowers and fanciful designs. Despite the low cost, many thrifty innovators fashioned their own carpet beaters with scraps of wire and wicker attaching them to odd pieces of wood or handles of old brooms.
It was necessary for people to wait for clear weather in order to clean their carpets. Those living in homesteads would beat their carpets in the backyard while those living in tenements hung their carpets out of the window or over the railings of the fire escape to beat them (the latter caused a cloud of dust and dirt to descend on unsuspecting passers-by!). It was not long before housewives were not only beating carpets – their list included rugs, bedding, cushions and sometimes clothes. It was a time when the term ‘child abuse’ was not heard of and mothers in Holland and some parts of Belgium used the carpet beater for spanking their children! Thus, the Dutch families created a disciplinary use for the carpet beater, conserving the values of bringing up children and establishing a matriarchal superiority. Perhaps Freud would have explained it better, but there was a certain psychological unintended benefit to providing an outlet for the housewife to vent their frustration on their carpets and beddings rather than their families!
The turn of the 20th century marked the demise of the carpet beater. Today, it is a valuable antique that can be purchased online. R.I.P. carpet beater… your story has been told and the world will remember you!