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The History Of The Washing Machine

History Of The Washing Machine

Where would we be without the washing machine? Well, our clothes would be a lot dirtier and smellier, for a start. Pretty much taken for granted, this staple (and essential) white good of the modern home has been the heroic saviour from many an unpleasant stain.

The earliest form of washing clothes can be traced back to long sea voyages, when sailors would jam their laundry into a cloth bag, toss it overboard, and let the ocean’s waves force the dirt and grime out the clothes.

An early advocate of bringing some semblance of order and dignity to household chores was the American, Catherine Beecher, who called laundry “the American housekeeper’s hardest problem.” Washer women and some mechanical aids were employed, but, without gas, electricity or running water, it was a time consuming and labour intensive task – and lifting heavy baskets, rubbing and wringing clothes took its toll on women’s arms.

Technology has come on leaps and bounds and washing is no longer such an arduous or painful task – although many would still argue it’s a chore they’d rather do without.

Here then, is the history of that most essential and irreplaceable of kitchen appliances – the washing machine.

In The Beginning…

First patented in the United States in 1846, the earliest manual washing machines mimicked the motion of the human hand on a washboard, using a system of levers to rub the clothes between two ribbed surfaces.

1900 saw the introduction of electric clothes washers which rotated the tub to clean the clothes. However, the motor wasn’t protected beneath the machine exposing it to water – and causing frequent short circuits and even electric shocks. A decade or so later, oscillating, cylinder, domestic washing machines were available.

Challenges Ahead…

In terms of technological challengers, early washing machine developers had their work cut out. Amongst them was working out a method of transferring power from the motor to the mechanism and finding a motor capable of providing sufficient starting torque. Crucially, they also needed to find a way the operator didn’t run the risk of suffering an electric shock.

When it came to transferring power, machines were chain, belt or shaft and gears driven. A fractional horsepower motor was used to overcome initial resistance to starting the machine. And to prevent those unexpected jolts of electric shocks, the rotor of the machine was enclosed in a protective housing fitted with a fan, which also prevented it from overheating.

Challenges Ahead…

In terms of technological challengers, early washing machine developers had their work cut out. Amongst them was working out a method of transferring power from the motor to the mechanism and finding a motor capable of providing sufficient starting torque. Crucially, they also needed to find a way the operator didn’t run the risk of suffering an electric shock.

When it came to transferring power, machines were chain, belt or shaft and gears driven. A fractional horsepower motor was used to overcome initial resistance to starting the machine. And to prevent those unexpected jolts of electric shocks, the rotor of the machine was enclosed in a protective housing fitted with a fan, which also prevented it from overheating.

Bigger And Better

Another inconvenience with early washing machines was that they occasionally shredded clothes – meaning different speeds were needed to different types of clothes. This dilemma was overcome with washing machines that sloshed water through the clothing via an agitation system – either the tub moved or a drum baffle placed inside the tub moved.

Early-stage washing machines had a dirty, heavy, cast-iron mechanism mounted on the inside of the tub lid – this was soon replaced by a metal tub and reduction gears.

It was the Ontario-based Beatty brother of Fergus who manufactured the first agitator washing machine. Their early versions used nickel or nickel-chromium plated ribbed copper tubs. The first American company to adopt this new and improved agitator technology was Maytag. The horizontal rotating axis of earlier machines was soon replaced with the vertical orientation of the new models and became the industry standard.

Even More Improvements

Throughout the next few decades, major changes, updates and improvements were incorporated into the new washing machine designs – including the use of enamelled steel, which was more sanitary, easier to clean and longer lasting.

The early 1920s saw a number of Canadian machines manufactured with built-in gas or electric water heaters. The 1930s ushered in domestic water heaters, effectively rendering the washing machine heater of little use. Furthermore, the introduction of motor-driven drain pumps edged the machine one step closer to automaticity.

The next phase in the machine’s ongoing design was installing a clock system and timing device which enabled machines to be set at pre-determined times and operated at specific wash cycle durations. In other words, the operator didn’t need to constantly keep an eye on it.

In the 1950s, lots of American manufacturers were supplying machines with a spin-dry feature – this replaced the wringer and eliminated the risk of previous accidents which had involved hands and hair. By the end of the 1950s, GE had manufactured a machine with five push button controls which gauged the washing temperature, rinse temperature, agitation speed and spin speed.

And So To Today….The Modern Machine

Modern washing machines come in two types – the top, which is most popular in America and Australia, and the front loader, more popular in Europe.

Top loaders have a vertical cylinder and the clothes are loaded into the machine from a hinged door at the top, with an agitator at the bottom of the cylinder providing the mechanical motion.

Front loaders have horizontal cylinders – known as the drum - and the clothes are loaded through a door at the front. Paddles in the drum move the clothes around to wash them. The combination of motion and gravity forces the soapy water through the clothes to clean them.

In a battle of the washing machines, front loaders came out as the triumphant victors – they provide a more vigorous and thorough wash, use less water and energy, and are a kinder to the clothes.

So, where would we be without the spinning, washing, kitchen-based convenience that is the washing machine? With an increasingly mounting pile of dirty pants and socks, probably.

Today’s washing machines are very reliable but – like any electrical and technological appliance – are likely to break or need repairing from time to time. If you need any spare parts for your washing machine, Ransom Spares will be able to help.

By Lee Gilbert

Category: Articles, News & Tips

Lee Gilbert
Author By Lee Gilbert
Date On 17th Oct 2013 at 13:14
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