Invention of the Washing Machine:
Liberation from Hand-washing

The invention of the washing machine, freed the many who were burdened with the act of washing clothes by hands. Washing has been a task disliked by many especially in earlier times when clothes were heavy and you had to scrub them by hand. If you weren’t rich or privileged enough to have a maid or a family member clean your clothes for you, you’d really have to do it on your own, with bare hands.

Before any devices that aid laundering were invented, people used to pound clothes on rocks and rub them with sand or let the quick current of local streams wash away dirt.

Since plumbing wasn’t invented yet, water had to be carried all the way from pumps, streams, or wells, heated with fire, and then poured into a tub. At sea, clothes were placed in a strong cloth bag and let the ship drag the bag for hours. In Ancient Rome, there is evidence that ashes made of the fat of sacrificial animals were used as soap.

From very early in time, different drawings of washing machines were made. In the 15th century, Ottavio Strada drew an idea or an early concept for the washing machine, which was most likely designed for textile manufacturing. In 1670s, John Hoskins experimented with squeezing a thick bag full of laundry with a wheel and cylinder. In 1691, an Englishman had patented a multi-purpose device that can be used for washing.

The industrial revolution kicked off a real innovation wave in the field of laundry washing. Earliest washing machines were hand-operated but still lightened the load of washing since the original method usually took a whole day of labor to finish.

The invention of the washing machine: Washing dollies

Washing tubs were widely sold in London in 1752. The tubs were made of a wooden pail with a vertical rod. The rod passes through the lid in the middle. It is attached to a handle on one end and attached to a circular disk with short wooden pieces sticking out like a broom on the other end. A similar invention was in wide use as common home laundry tool in the 19th century.

The invention of the washing machine: Washing mill

In 1787, Edward Beetham, a “machine publicist” by profession, advertised Thomas Todd’s washing machine where he started countering the thoughts of the crowd that machines destroy linen. In 1790, Beetham bought the rights to James Wood’s patent for a portable washing mill. The washing mill is a large wooden mill, accommodating many clothes at once, with a lever to be turned. A version was made for the navy to be used aboard ships. Beetham’s machine reached the United States in 1791, although the first washing machine to be patented in the US was made by Nathaniel Briggs. However, descriptions of his patent were destroyed by a fire.

The invention of the washing machine: Wringers

Coates & Hancock, rivals of Beetham, had different patented machines. They cooperated for business and promised that their machines provided gentle actions and a money-back guarantee for the first month after purchase. Their machines used nettings or cloth wrappers to be wringed, a process of twisting, turning, and squeezing, gently. A similar machine that uses the same technology was patented by John Turnbull in 1843.

The invention of the washing machine: Scrub board

The scrub board consists of two carved wood planks where clothes will be rubbed by using a lever to move the planks over each other. Although this device was invented as early as 1797, it was first patented in the US in 1846.

The invention of the washing machine: Drum

The first washing machine using a rotating drum has been patented by Henry Sidgier in 1782. His rotating drum washer was a drum cage with wooden rods where water passes through as the cylinder turns. American inventor James King created a hand-powered washing machine, patented in 1851, similar to Sidgier’s, but this time with a paddle. A similar drum was patented in 1858 by Hamilton Smith which included a reverse revolution.

Electric drum

In the advent of electricity, scientists scrambled to invent the first electric washing machine, and in the 1900s, Alva Fisher claimed the title. But it was Louis Goldenberg, an engineer at Ford Motor Company, who really invented Fisher’s machine.

Fisher’s machine was called “Thor”, a drum-type with a galvanized tube and an electric motor. However, the motor was not protected beneath the machine so dripping water caused short-circuits and shocks.

In 1911, Whirpool Corporation, previously called Upton Machine Co., produced wringer washers powered by electric motors.

The invention of the washing machine: Punch-card powered

In 1907, F.L. Maytag introduced a wooden-tub washing machine to add to his line of products at the Maytag Corporation. Like Maytag’s, the Schulthess Group added washing machines to their line in 1909, having been established in the 18th Century. In 1949, they invented the punch-card control for washing machines.

The invention of the washing machine: Machines with washer and dryer

Bendix Deluxe, a machine loaded in the front, was introduced in 1947, accompanying General Electric’s top-loading automatic model. Some machines were semi-automatic, requiring users to intervene at one point or another. A semi-automatic type introduced by Hoover in the 1970’s does include tubs for washing and rinsing or water extraction.

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