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Washing Machine History: A Historical Glimpse

Washing Machine History: A Historical Glimpse

The first washing machine was invented in the 1850s to replace how people washed their clothes eventually. Before people used washing machines, people cleaned their clothes by beating them on rocks or rubbing abrasive sands, and washing away the dirt in streams or rivers. During the colonial times, others boil their clothes in a cauldron then lay them down on a flat board to beat them with a paddle. The washboards themselves were made entirely of wood until metal ones were invented in 1833.

Laundry became a communal ritual where people would gather to wash clothes by the rivers, springs, or other bodies of water. Even today, some people still treat laundry as a sort of communal ritual by gathering together near a body of water or water pumps to do laundry together because they have no access to washing machines. But now, plenty of people have access to washing machines to the point that it’s not much of a communal thing anymore.

The First Washing Machine

Thanks to the industrial revolution in the United States in the mid-1800s and the middle class having enough money for labour-saving devices, there came a demand for a machine to wash clothes. The first manual washing machine was operated by hand on a washboard and cleaned clothes by rubbing them between two ribbed surfaces.

Two Americans, James King and Hamilton Smith, filed and received patents for the "first true modern washers" in 1851 and 1858, respectively. Others would also improve on the technology to create larger wooden washing machines that work on a commercial scale. The technology may have been simple, but it was a milestone in the history of laundry and washing machines that eventually led to the modern electronic washing machines we have right now.

Electric Washing Machines

The first commercial electric washer, the Thor, was launched in 1907. The Thor was marketed by the Hurley Electric Laundry Equipment Company of Chicago and was a drum-type machine with a galvanized tub. An electric motor powered the drum. The first models had engines that were not watertight and short-circuited easily.

Thor continued to innovate the technology until the trademark was bought in 2008 by Appliances International.

History of Washing Machines

Other companies also developed electric washing machines. Written below is the chronological timeline of electric washing machines:


Alva John Fisher, an American engineer, was considered the inventor of the first domestic electric washing machine.

Metal tanks replaced wooden tanks in washing machines.


The Thor was launched by Hurley Electric Laundry Equipment Company using the Alva J. Fisher prototype patented in 1910.


Joe Barlow and John Seelig founded Barlow & Seelig Manufacturing.


The electric washing machine was improved upon by Barlow & Seelig Manufacturing to make it safer and efficient. They also began selling their own washing machine model.


Barlow & Seelig Manufacturing introduced the first multidirectional wringer on the market.


Electric motors became waterproof and two-speed: slow for washing, faster for spinning. Put on show at the Paris Fair, the newer washing machines using them promoted strong interest.


The first washing machine with an incorporated spin function was born.

Electric washing machine sales boomed in the United States, reaching 913,000 units.


The French market saw its first washing machines. The spin function was incorporated in the machines.


60% of the 25,000,000 US homes connected to the electricity grid had an electric washing machine. Most of the households also had an electric wringer.

Automatic Washing Machines

In 1937, Bendix Home Appliances introduced the automatic washing machine after getting a patent. The machine had most of the current automatic machines' features, save for some features like the drum suspension. The lack of suspension meant that the machine had to be anchored on the floor.

Automatic washing machines became an innovation during the early 50s and were expensive back then. Such washing machines do all the washing operations without requiring any manual intervention. Laundromats were usually the only ones with automatic washing machines due to the high costs of owning one.

Many laundromats then appeared in all major US and European cities during the 1950s and the 1960s. The models continued to improve over the years and introduced new features, including integrating centrifugal force to wring the laundry and programmed washing cycles.

Early automatic washing machines were linked to the water supply using temporary slip-on connectors until further development allowed for permanent connections to the cold and hot water supplies.


Working for the Bendix Aviation Corporation, John Chamberlain invented a multifunctional automatic washing machine that could wash, rinse, and spin clothes in a single cycle. A patent was also filed for the model, which was the first automatic washing machine.

The 1950s

Laundromats started appearing in all major European and US cities as automatic washing machines were just introduced.

The 1960s

Different washing machine brands advertised their products worldwide.


44% of French households had a washing machine.


74% of French households had a washing machine.

The 1980s

Washing machines were further developed to be smaller than their predecessors. The machines also started having electronic components like microprocessors and RAM. Washing machines also started consuming less water and electricity during this time.

Current Washing Machines

The current washing machines in use in multiple households and laundromats have dozens of wash cycles and water levels that can be programmed during washing. The machines effectively reduced the daily water and energy consumption while washing clothes in record time.

Impact of Washing Machines on Society

Laundry was initially thought of as a woman's work, but the introduction of washing machines slowly changed this. According to a story in an Italian newspaper, the machine even became instrumental in the liberation of women. Swedish scientist Hans Rosling pointed out that washing machines influenced women’s household roles by reducing the time spent washing clothes and allow women to cultivate their minds.

The introduction of washing machines also allowed people to stop washing their clothes by watercourses while also allowing them to wash different fabrics. Irish citizens in Waterford can get a washing machine Waterford to improve their lives by reducing their time spent on laundry.

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