Origins of the Modern Washing Machine

Posted On Jun 16, 2020

Origins of the Modern Washing Machine

By raise of hand, who wants to wash all of their clothing, bedding and towels by hand in a local creek or river? Yep, that’s what we thought, no one. Washing machines have become so ingrained in the routines all of us keep but it wasn’t even until 1833 that the metal washboard was invented and made widely available to the public. Read on to learn the origins of one of the most essential appliances in your home, the humble washing machine.

The Wringer

Picture yourself in the early 1800s, knee deep in the Patapsco River, beating your smelly clothes against a rock, when someone mentions to you that they heard someone invented a machine that will perform the work for you. “The Wringer” (pictured above) was powered completely by hand and still required users to rub their clothing up against a hard surface with soap and water followed by feeding it through the wringer. The Shakers released another hand-powered machine called the “wash mill” in the 1850s that was patented and made headlines in the day for its ease of use and practicality.

Washing Drums

The Wringer made things easier but still required a substantial amount of work to operate. At the turn of the century, inventors started toying with the idea of steam-powered washing drums. These machines were targeted primarily at commercial customers like hotels and restaurants. The drums utilized heat to sanitize and clean laundry that rolled around in a metal drum. Alva J. Fisher introduced a model called “Thor” in 1908. It was believed to be the first electrically powered washing machine. The Chicago’s Hurley Machine Company produced the machine primarily for commercial customers, but soon other companies developed their own versions for consumers.

By 1928, U.S. electric washing machine sales had reached 913,000 units. The Great Depression reduced sales and prompted the creation of more communal laundromats. But by 1940, 60% of the 25 million wired homes in the U.S. had an electric washing machine. The first electric clothes dryer was invented in the 1930s but didn’t catch on as much as the washer did – many opting to dry their clothing on a clothesline, something many still prefer to do.

The Modern Washing Machine

Alva Fisher would be surprised to learn that many newer washing machines include WiFi so customers can stay connected via app. He’d then ask what “WiFi” and “apps” are but that’s beside the point. Modern washing machines utilize gas and electricity hookups that all homes come equipped with to do all of the dirty work. It’s estimated that there are over 840 million domestic washing machines in use worldwide!

Installing a new washing machine or looking to repair an existing appliance? Give Catons a call at 410-655-5757 or schedule service online and our plumbing experts will be there to help in no time.