There had been several attempts to design washing machines both for commercial and domestic use, but it was not until the late 1800s when a convenient washing machine was first used in homes. It was designed by William Blackstone as a birthday present for his wife.
Since the dawn of history, people always relied on hand washing. Even currently, an estimated two-thirds of the world’s population still rely on hand washing.
The earliest example of the washing machine was the fulling mill. Fulling dates as far back as biblical times, as well as during the roman empire and medieval times. Clothes were cleaned in fulling mills, where scouring and milling wrangled the clothes out. While larger households used fulling, smaller households relied on scrub boards and tubs of water.
Early Home Washing Machines
Jacob Christian Schäffer, a German professor, came up with the first published designs for an at-home washing machine in 1767. His 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 inside the drum.
In 1782, Henry Sidgier improved on that with a British-patented rotating drum washer. Nearly a decade later in 1858, Hamilton-Smith had a similar drum patented that included a reverse revolution.
And finally in 1874, William Blackstone designed the thoughtful birthday present for his wife – an at-home washing machine. It was the first convenient washing machine for home use and it became very popular.
These original washing machines were hand-cranked or manually operated. They also featured a wringer mechanism. The wringer mechanism was first combined with the washing machine in 1843 when a Canadian, John Turnbull, patented a washing machine with wringer rolls.
Slowly with more improvements, metal drums replaced wooden drums. That allowed the metal drums to be rotated above an open fire or enclosed chamber of fire, making water hot enough for effective washing of clothes. Eventually, steam-powered washing machines found their use for commercial purposes.
Electric Home Washing Machines
Until the end of the 19th-century, washing machines were either hand-cranked or steam-powered. However, with Thomas Edison spurring the American industrial revolution with electricity, electric washing machines were inevitable. As early as the turn of the 20th century, it was a hot media topic.
It is worth mentioning that the 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 by Alva J. Fisher featured a drum-type washing machine with a galvanized tub and an electric motor.
With its commercial success, other companies attempted to venture into the electric washing machine business successfully. Notably, the Maytag Corporation, where F.L. Maytag, a farm implements manufacturer, decided to add washing machines to the company’s portfolio when the farming business was underperforming. In time, the Maytag corporation was fully immersed in the washing machine business.
Other companies included the infamous Whirlpool Corporation, and a fruitful relationship with Sears, Roebuck & Company, a mail-order business, followed with the famous brand name Whirlpool.
By the 1930s, electric washing machines hit record sales. The focus now shifted to electrical and mechanical safety as spin dryers slowly replaced electronically powered wringers.
Automated Home Washing Machines
With competition over improved functions taking center stage, John Chamberlain, working for Bendix Aviation Corporation, invented and patented the multifunctional machine that could wash, rinse and spin in a single cycle. It became the first domestic automatic washing machine in 1937. The machine had to be anchored to the floor to avoid ‘walking.’ With features that were costly to produce, such as the 2-speed gearbox and timer, the automated washing machine did not come cheap.
Eventually, competition peaked for automated washing machines, with the first top-loading automatic machines arriving in 1947 by General Electric. The Hoover company introduced washing machines 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. That enabled the convenient operation of washing machines.
Over time, manufacturers tried to cut down costs while improving technology. Gearboxes got replaced by electronically controlled motors, the use of hydraulic suspension to reduce vibration and washing speed of washing machines significantly increased. Currently, computerized washing machines are programmed to determine certain factors like load size and adjust wash cycles accordingly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who invented the first washing machine?
The accreditation of the first washing machine invention lies with Jacob Christian Schäffer. However, notable improvements that lay the foundation of modern-day washing machines rest with Henry Sidgier. William Blackstone made the first revolutionary domestic washing machine.
When were washing machines first used in households?
The first washing machines were commercial. However, eventually, some found their way into domestic use. William Blackstone would make them popular for home use, as the washing machine he invented conveniently worked domestically in households.
When did washing machines become popular?
Washing machines became popular in the late 1700s when milestone inventions and innovations occurred, improving the laundry of clothing and clothing accessories. That eventually made washing machines convenient.
The revolutionized laundry industry
Washing machines are products of history of innovation and inventions that have improved and revolutionized the laundry industry. It is impossible to imagine a life currently without washing machines. Every household using washing machines is indebted to the dedication of various personalities that devoted their time and effort, eventually having washing machines sit comfortably in our basements or laundry spaces.