When I saw this ad I snickered. Yeah, pour bluing into a pool to make it blue. Sure thing buddy.

(SOURCE: Sunset, November 1967)

I remember the term "bluing" from long ago, but never hear it anymore. Well, surprise surprise, this company, Mrs. Stewart's Bluing is still in business. The company dates back to the 1880s. The following is an excerpt from their website:
Mrs. Stewart's Bluing was born in the early 1880s. "MSB" owes its existence to a peddler and his mother-in-law, a marginally successful Five and Ten Cent store, and a fireworks explosion. From the beginning, Mrs. Stewart's journey has been an interesting one!
In the late 1870s, Al Stewart, a traveling salesman for a Chicago wholesale grocer, was a familiar figure in Iowa and southern Minnesota. In his market basket full of samples, he always carried a bottle of Mrs. Stewart's Bluing, which he made in his home with his family assisting him according to a formula he had acquired.
Meanwhile, Luther Ford, a young silk salesman, moved to Minneapolis where he started the first "Five and Ten Cent Bazaar" west of Pittsburgh. Business was not highly successful and so he began a wholesale business, carrying notions, toys, and fireworks.
Al Stewart and Luther Ford crossed paths when Mr. Stewart began searching for someone to manufacture his bluing for him. Following a spectacular (but accidental) eruption of fireworks in the Five and Ten Cent store, Mr. Ford realized the potential of a (safer) future in the bluing business! Al Stewart sold Luther Ford the rights to Mrs. Stewart's Bluing, and the first documented sale of Mrs. Stewart's Bluing was logged on  July 30, 1883. Mr. Ford quickly made plans to extend distribution across the region.
Facilities and equipment used in manufacturing in the late 1800s were primitive. The ceiling in the first basement factory was so low, holes had to be made in the floor so the employees had a place for their feet to hang down. Filling was done from wooden barrels with a rubber hose. Corks were pounded in with a small mallet, and each bottle was dipped in hot sealing wax as the corks didn't always fit into the slightly irregularly shaped hand-blown bottles. Labeling was done by hand using paste. Bottles were packed in sawdust in wooden cases or in barrels. Stock was stored and production stopped during the winter, until a later date when a heated manufacturing building was obtained.
Visit their site to read more about their history and the various uses for their product. Truthfully I thought bluing was a thing of the past, but now I'm curious to see if I can find a bottle of this stuff. According to them:
The versatility of MSB seems infinite. While we manufacture MSB as a laundry whitener, many have found other uses for bluing as well. Make a Salt Crystal Garden, whiten dingy hair on a pet, reduce algae growth in bird baths, fish ponds and fountains, ease the pain of an ant bite or bee sting, and much more with this unique, versatile and economical product that has been a staple in many homes for over 125 years - since 1883!
All these years I've been trying to figure out what to use for marking my annual ski racecourse around the orchard. Stupid me! I guess I won't have to use the dog anymore. Blue looks so much better on white than yellow.


  1. How old a bottle of Mrs. Stewart's are you looking for? How about close to a hundred?

    1. Have you done a letterhead with their image?

  2. Felix0912/05/2012

    Hmm. Different worlds. My family has always used Mrs. Stewart's Bluing. I still do. [If you cannot find it in your local store, it can be ordered on-line.] When washing clothes, the "whites" come out so much nicer, especially after being line-dried in the sun and ironed. Yes, I and many other people still iron [some things] and use clotheslines. :-) Remember, you live in California, which is, well, a world all its own. :-) Regardless, I am one of those who like to continue tried-and-true traditions.