A clean legacy

Howard Snyder. Photo provided

Howard Snyder. Photo provided

Some of the best inventors have taken an idea and tweaked it to become even better. They can take a gadget and make it do more things. They can look at a process and streamline it.

That’s what Howard Snyder did, and it’s what he’s most famous for. Snyder, a Rose Creek native, was so good at tinkering with machines that he helped a company get out of debt and make millions of dollars in the process — all in the 1920s.

An early employee photo that includes a young Howard Snyder. Snyder is fourth from the left in the second row from the bottom.  Photo provided

An early employee photo that includes a young Howard Snyder. Snyder is fourth from the left in the second row from the bottom. Photo provided

“He was kind of a value-added inventor,” said amateur historian Tom Hoover. “He had a few inventions, as it were, where he invented something new, but most all of his inventions”

Snyder created the gyrafoam — the prototypical washing machine that affected how we wash clothes today — for the Maytag Company in 1922. By far his most famous invention, the gyrafoam washing machine turned Maytag into an appliance behemoth throughout the 20th century.

Tom Hoover

Tom Hoover

His story is coming into print with Hoover’s latest book, “How We Made The Gyrafoam,” which will be published in just a few weeks.

“He was a fascinating man,” Hoover said.

Hoover, a retired school administrator who lives in Newton, Iowa, first found out about Snyder more than four years ago when a group of Newton residents were researching the Newton town square and neighboring houses. Newton was the home of the Maytag Company as well as Fredrick L. Maytag, the company founder.

Yet Hoover, who was part of the research group, found few people remembered who Snyder was, though Hoover kept seeing references to Snyder in Maytag’s history.

“He was referred to as the inventive genius of the company, or an engineer of the company,” Hoover said.

While some couldn’t remember Snyder, others knew he was a former engineer, or perhaps even a vice president. Snyder was all of that and more, however.

An early photo of Snyder working with a thresher.  Photo provided

An early photo of Snyder working with a thresher.
Photo provided

Born in 1868, Snyder and his family moved to Rose Creek when he was 1 year old. He grew up in the area and, despite a lack of formal education, developed a reputation for his wizard work with machines.

“He was one of those kids that just loved to do that,” Hoover said. “He was fascinated with machines and how they worked.”

Though machinery was a much-need skill in the 1800s — farmers who didn’t know how to fix broken farm equipment suffered on the Minnesota prairie — Snyder was the kind of man people turned to to improve their machines.

That’s how Maytag discovered Snyder in the 1890s. Maytag was already a part-owner in his family’s business, Parsons Band-Cutter & Self Feeder Company, when he discovered the company got complaints over farm equipment in every area they sold tractors except for Mower County.

According to Hoover, Maytag came to Austin in 1896 to find out what was going right when he discovered Snyder had made improvements to tractors sold through his father-in-law.

Maytag offered Snyder a job as a field manager on the spot and asked him to come to Newton, but Snyder declined as his son had died the previous fall. Snyder’s family would eventually move to Newton in 1898.

From there, Snyder’s reputation as an inventor grew and he eventually became a vice president of the Maytag company. He would go on to hold 50 patents on appliance and farm equipment-related inventions, according to Hoover.

Snyder’s biggest invention came in the early 1920s, just as Maytag faced serious financial difficulties.

Many washing machines at that time used spinning parts on the top of the lid, which caused clothes to be washed through friction. Snyder’s idea was to put spinning parts — called a gyratator — on the bottom, which would cause clothes to move within the machine and be washed by forcing water through the fabrics.

Thus was born the Gyrafoam, the machine that revolutionized washing machines to the modern day.

“That washing machine was introduced in 1922. In four years, the Maytag company sold $200 million of those machines, or about $3.2 billion by today’s standards,” Hoover said. “Maytag was the fifth-largest company selling washing machines in 1922. By 1926, they are No. 1.”

Snyder passed away in 1927, at 57 years old, of pneumonia brought on by declining health. At the time of his death, Maytag was quoted as saying “I’ve lost my pal, my best friend, my closest companion,” in local newspapers, according to Hoover.

In completing the book, Hoover found Snyder and Maytag were incredibly close friends and business partners, as without Snyder’s inventions, Maytag wouldn’t have created his massive company. Yet without Maytag’s know-how, Snyder wouldn’t have had the opportunity to invent something many people take for granted.

“He did some amazing things,” Hoover said.

Hoover’s book will be published in about a month’s time after some final revisions. Though people in Newton have preordered several copies of the book, Hoover plans to travel to Austin to discuss the book and find ways to make the book available to area residents.

For Hoover, the project was a joy to complete as he discovered more interesting tidbits about Snyder, Maytag and the company they worked for.

“Oh my gosh, this man accomplished some significant things,” Hoover said of Snyder.

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