The modern-day electric washing machine that we have come to know and love first became popular in the 1930s-1950s. At this point, automatic washing machines sales exceeded their antique electric wringer washing machine counterparts for the first time.
It all started in the United States, with Europe following afterward, mainly attributed to the economic impact of the second world war on the European market. Soon, electric washing machine sales spread across the entire globe.
Before this point, people washed by hand or used hand-cranked washing machines. The washing machines used before their modern-day descendants featured a hand-cranked mechanism that dominated the consumer market until the late 1800s.
The history of hand-cranked washing machines
Initially, our ancestors used to hand wash clothes before inventions sprung up in the laundry industry. They relied on using simple technology like scrub boards and fulling to do their day-to-day laundry activities. Fulling involved scouring and thickening of clothes in a rather aggressive approach where fulling hammers, clubs, or feet were used.
This changed when a German professor, Jacob Christian Schäffer, designed what resembled a manual washing machine in 1767. The design featured a wooden drum-like device with a vertical broom structure in the middle. The broom structure had wooden strip ends resembling a broom that rotated to agitate clothes on the internal surface of the drum.
In 1782, Henry Sidgier, a British inventor, made a notable invention that laid the foundation for modern-day washing machines, the rotating drum washer. Hand-cranked, the horizontal placed rotating drum washing machine improved the agitation of clothes.
In 1858, Hamilton-Smith had a similar drum patented that included a reverse revolution. By then, washing machines had started gaining popularity in the commercial sector and slowly creeping into households.
In 1874, William Blackstone designed a birthday gift for his wife, becoming the first washing machine conveniently made for home use. His washing machine became so popular that he started his own company manufacturing washing machines. This led to the popularity of washing machines in homes.
The washing machine featured a wringing mechanism previously patented in 1843 by a Canadian, John Turnbull, who famously designed a washing machine with wringer rolls.
Up until this point, washing machines had been wooden, and with more improvements, metal drums replaced the wooden drums. The metal drums could be rotated above an open fire or enclosed chamber of fire, making water hot enough for effective washing of clothes.
Until the late 19th century, washing machines were hand-cranked or manually operated, save for the few commercial steam washing machines.
The introduction of electric washing machines
At the turn of the 20th century, a brewing American industrial revolution fueled by the commercialization of electricity saw more and more facilities and households added to the national electric grid. This led to electrification of invented machines at that time.
Washing machines were not left behind. The actual inventor of the electric washing machine is not known. However, in 1908, the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago, Illinois, debuted the mighty Thor, the first electric washing machine.
The invention of Alva J. Fisher featured a drum-type washing machine with a galvanized tub and an electric motor. Following its commercial success, other companies successfully ventured into the electric washing machine industry, with Maytag and Whirlpool Corporations deserving notable mentions for popularizing electric washing machines.
By the 1930s, electric washing machines hit record sales. Eventually, in 1934, the first laundromat opened in Fort Worth, Texas, run by one Andrew Klein. The facility used a coin in the slot technique to rent washing machines, pioneering the now famous business and popularizing washing machine use.
Focus shifted to electrical and mechanical safety as the electric-powered washing machines were not strangers to short-circuiting and electrocutions. Electric-powered wringers led to many injuries, so they slowly got replaced by spin dryers.
Modern-day Washing Machines
The modern-day washing machine became popular in the 1950s when automatic washing machines increasing sales outmatched electric wringer washing machines.
It all began in 1937, where following competition between manufacturers to improve functions, John Chamberlain, working for Bendix Aviation Corporation, invented and patented the multifunctional machine that could wash, rinse and spin in a single cycle.
The automated washing machine was costly to produce, as the 2-speed gearbox and timer it used did not come cheap. Additionally, it had to be anchored to the ground to prevent it from shaking away.
The Hoover company came up with cartridges and mechanical readers to program different wash cycles. Soon automated washing machines would incorporate electromechanical timers whose advancements meant the use of dials.
In time, manufacturers improved technology to cut down costs. Electronically controlled motors, using the hydraulic suspension systems, rheostats, and angled drums for easy loading. All these made significant improvements in the automated washing machine.
Eventually, computerized washing machines took center stage. They can be programmed to determine certain factors like load size and adjust wash cycles accordingly.
Frequently Asked Questions
When were the first washing machines manufactured?
Washing machines were manufactured as early as the late 18th century. A lot of inventors came up with simple technology hand-cranked washing machines that were used in the laundry industry. However, an accreditation goes to William Blacksmith for manufacturing the first home-use washing machines in the mid-nineteenth century that popularized washing machines.
When were modern washing machines first produced?
Modern washing machines were originally produced in the 1930s. That’s when John Chamberlain, working for Bendix Aviation Corporation, invented and patented the multifunctional machine that could wash, rinse and spin in a single cycle. He pioneered the first automated washing machine, an ancestor of the modern-day washing machine.
What led to the popularity of washing machines?
Washing machines became popularized thanks to the convenience of doing of laundry at home. Laundry was a chore at first. Hand-cranked machines eased this burden. However, electric washing machines, despite being still manually operated, made the process almost effortless. Automated washing machines further freed up doing laundry, allowing for people to focus on other priorities.
Washing machines have come a long way from the hand-cranked versions of the 18th century to the modern-day programable versions we have today, all in the name of finding an easier way of washing clothes.
For people using washing machines, it is virtually impossible to imagine life without washing machines. This all thanks to a rich history and series of inventions that laid the groundwork for what we use today. It will be interesting to see how they develop going forward.