|For centuries, people on sea
voyages washed their clothes by placing the 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. Catharine Beecher, an early advocate of
bringing order and dignity to housework, called laundry "the American
housekeepers hardest problem". Women from all classes tried to find ways to get
relief from doing laundry. Some hired washerwomen and others used commercial laundries.
Eventually mechanical aids lightened the load.
"In the early days,
without running water, gas, or electricity even the most simplified hand-laundry used
staggering amounts of time and labor. One wash, one boiling and one rinse used about fifty
gallons of wateror four hundred poundswhich had to be moved from pump or well
or faucet to stove and tub, in buckets and wash boilers that might weigh as much as forty
or fifty pounds. Rubbing, wringing, and lifting water-laden clothes and linens, including
large articles like sheets, tablecloths, and mens heavy work clothes, wearied
womens arms and wrists and exposed them to caustic substances.
They lugged weighty tubs and baskets full of wet laundry outside, picked up an
article, hung it on the line, and returned to take it all down; they ironed by heating
several irons on the stove and alternating them as they cooled, never straying far from
the hot stove."
||The First Washing Machines
The earliest manual washing machines imitated the motion of the human hand on the
washboard, by using a lever to move one curved surface over another and rubbing clothes
between two ribbed surfaces. This type of washer was first patented in the United States
in 1846 and survived as late as 1927 in the Montgomery Ward catalogue. The first electric
clothes washers, in which a motor rotated the tub, were introduced into America about
1900. The motor was not protected beneath the machine and water often dripped into it
causing short-circuits and jolting shocks. By 1911, it was possible to buy oscillating,
cylinder, domestic washing machines with sheet metal tubs mounted on angle-iron frames
with perforated metal or wooden slat cylinders inside.
From a technological perspective, washing machine manufacturers faced a number of
challenges. These included discovering a method of transferring power from the motor to
the mechanism, finding a suitable motor with sufficient initial starting torque, and
ensuring that the operator did not get an electrical shock during operation.
the transference of power, some washing machines were chain driven, some belt driven and
others used shafts and gears.
To overcome the initial resistance in starting a washing machine, a fractional
horsepower motor which would not burn out or overheat during the start-up period was used.
This was usually a 1/8 or ¼ horsepower motor, manufactured out-of-house by Westinghouse
or Robbins and Myers.
To prevent electric shocks, the stator and rotor of the machine were enclosed in
a housing equipped with a fan to prevent overheating.
From the customer satisfaction perspective, a machine that would wash without
shredding the clothes needed to be developed. This meant that if the original scrubbing
machines were used, the machine had to be operated at different speeds for different
textiles. To overcome the problem, washing machines that sloshed water through the
clothing by agitation were developed. Either the tub moved or a baffle placed inside the
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
Beatty Brothers of Fergus, Ontario was the first company to produce an agitator
washing machine. The early Beatty machines had ribbed copper tubs which were nickel or
nickel-chromium plated. In the US, the first firm to adopt agitator technology was Maytag.
The vertical orientation of these machines became the industry standard replacing the
horizontal rotating axis of earlier machines.
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.
In the early 1920s, a number of Canadian machines were offered with built-in gas
or electric water heaters. By the 1930s, domestic water heaters were in many homes and the
washing machine heater was of little use. The addition of a motor-driven drain pump at
this time moved the machine one step closer to complete automaticity.
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.
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.
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Never Done: A
History of American Housework
by Susan Strasser / Paperback: 361 pages / Owl Books; (November 2000)
It is truly an eye-opening perspective on housework, not to mention a history of the tools
of the trade. For bringing housework into the light of historical scholarship, Strasser
deserves to have her name become a household word.
Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things
by Charles Panati / Paperback - 480 pages Reissue edition
(September 1989) / HarperCollins
Discover the fascinating stories behind the origins of over 500 everyday items,
expressions and customs.
More Work for
Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave
by Ruth Schwartz Cowan / Paperback Reprint edition (February 1985) / Basic Books (Sd)
Inventions such as washing machines, cotton cloth, and even white flour acted as catalysts
by giving the less well-off a chance at the comforts the prosperous already possessed, but
in general it was men and children whose chores were relieved by these innovations.
A Social History
of American Technology
by Ruth Schwartz Cowan / Paperback: 352 pages / Oxford University Press; (December
This book surveys the history of American technology from the early 17th century to
focusing on the key individuals, ideas, and systems that have shaped the important
developments throughout American history.
ON THE SCREEN:
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 50 Minutes / History Channel / Less than $25.00
HOUSEHOLD WONDERS tells the story of seven taken-for-granted inventions
that make modern life comfy, fast and clean: the stove, sewing machine,
refrigerator, air conditioner, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, toaster
ON THE WEB:
National Museum of Science and Technology
The largest of its kind in Canada devoted to Science and Technology education.
History of the Washing Machine
A lot of appliances were about long before electricity, some would use motors to operate
them but most were operated by hand.
The History of Washing Machines
James King was an American who in 1851, patented the first washing machine to use a drum.
Lots of COOKIES and POP-UP ADS at this about site.
Washing Machine Repair
Sample page from the Cheap and Easy! Washing Machine Repair manual..
Maytag Collectors Club
In 1893 Frederick Louis Maytag, who came to Iowa as a farm boy in a covered wagon, joined
his two brothers-in-laws and George W. Parsons to start a farm implement company. They
produced threshing machine, band-cutter and self-feeder attachments invented by one of the
Sources in BOLD Type
page revised March, 2005.
Berners-Lee's invention has revolutionized the world like nothing
The invention of the Internet,
should be classed with the greatest events of the 20th Century.
The Aero Sport All-Terrain Bed
with Dual Power Pump is the perfect addition to any camping trip or weekend
book, is the perfect desktop reference for both the science novice and the
technologically advanced reader alike.
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