history of the washing machine

The History of the Washing Machine

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Laundry is a chore that has been part of human society since the beginning of time. From ancient laundering techniques to the washing machines we use today – people have always been looking for easier, more efficient ways to clean their dirty clothes.  Every wondered how people got the job done in the 1800s? Well, the answers are all here. Sit back and explore the evolution of the washing machine with us!

Ancient Automatic Laundry Techniques

The first laundry techniques were rustic to say the least. Laundering practices included placing your dirty laundry in a strong cloth bag, and tossing it overboard, letting the ship drag the bag for hours. The principle was sound: forcing water through clothes to remove dirt – and is arguably the origin of the washing machine that we know today.

Scrub Board

The earliest washing “machine” was in fact,  less of a machine and more of a scrub board. The earliest prototype of a washing machine was invented in 1797, but then updated in 1851 to include a drum and manually operated turner.

Rotary Washing Machine

In 1858, Hamilton Smith patented the rotary washing machine.In 1874, William Blackstone of Indiana built a  machine that removed dirt and stains from laundry as a birthday present for his wife. This thoughtful gift would come to be the first first example of washing machines designed for convenient use in the home.

Mighty Thor

The Thor was the first electric-powered washing machine. Introduced in 1908 by the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago, Illinois, the Thor was a drum type washing machine with a galvanized tub and an electric motor.


Early washing machines had a heavy, dirty, cast-iron mechanism mounted on the inside of the tub lid. The introduction of a metal tub and reduction gears to replace this bulky apparatus was a great improvement. By 1920, the coopered wooden tub was no longer being manufactured.

Starting in the 1920s, white enamelled sheet metal replaced the copper tub and angle-iron legs. By the early 1940s, enamelled steel was used and sold as being more sanitary, easier to clean and longer lasting than the other finishes. The sheet-metal skirt was also designed to extend below the level of the motor mount.

The next development of the washing machine was the fitting of a clock timing device which allowed the machine to be set to operate for a pre-determined length of wash cycle. Now, the operator no longer needed to constantly monitor its action.

The 1950s

By the early 1950s, many American manufacturers were supplying machines with a spin-dry feature to replace the wringer which removed buttons, and caused accidents involving hair and hands. In 1957, GE introduced a washing machine equipped with 5 push buttons to control wash temperature, rinse temperature, agitation speed and spin speed.

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