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Not to be confused with Dishwasher. Laundering by hand involves soaking, beating, scrubbing, and rinsing dirty textiles. Removal of soap and water from the clothing after washing was a separate process. First, soap would be rinsed out with clear water.
After rinsing, the soaking wet clothing would be formed into a roll and twisted by hand to extract water. The entire process often occupied an entire day of hard work, plus drying and ironing. It is also often used in washbasins. Clothes washer technology developed as a way to reduce the manual labor spent, providing an open basin or sealed container with paddles or fingers to automatically agitate the clothing. The earliest machines were hand-operated and constructed from wood, while later machines made of metal permitted a fire to burn below the washtub, keeping the water warm throughout the day’s washing.
The earliest special-purpose mechanical washing device was the washboard, invented in 1797 by Nathaniel Briggs of New Hampshire. By the mid-1850s steam-driven commercial laundry machinery were on sale in the UK and US. Technological advances in machinery for commercial and institutional washers proceeded faster than domestic washer design for several decades, especially in the UK. After the items were washed and rinsed, water had to be removed by twisting. As implied by the term “mangle,” these early machines were quite dangerous, especially if powered and not hand-driven.
The mangle used two rollers under spring tension to squeeze water out of clothing and household linen. Each laundry item would be fed through the wringer separately. The first wringers were hand-cranked, but were eventually included as a powered attachment above the washer tub. The wringer would be swung over the wash tub so that extracted wash water would fall back into the tub to be reused for the next load. The modern process of water removal by spinning did not come into use until electric motors were developed.
Spinning requires a constant high-speed power source, and was originally done in a separate device known as an “extractor”. A load of washed laundry would be transferred from the wash tub to the extractor basket, and the water spun out in a separate operation. The first English patent under the category of Washing machines was issued in 1691. A drawing of an early washing machine appeared in the January 1752 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine, a British publication. Jacob Christian Schäffer’s washing machine design was published 1767 in Germany.
More advancements were made to washing machine technology in the form of the rotative drum design. Basically, these early design patents consisted of a drum washer that was hand-cranked to make the wooden drums rotate. While the technology was simple enough, it was a milestone in the history of washing machines, as it introduced the idea of “powered” washing drums. It would not be until the 19th century when steam power would be used in washing machine designs. In 1862, a patented “compound rotary washing machine, with rollers for wringing or mangling” by Richard Lansdale of Pendleton, Manchester, was shown at the 1862 London Exhibition. The first United States Patent titled “Clothes Washing” was granted to Nathaniel Briggs of New Hampshire in 1797.
Because of the Patent Office fire in 1836, no description of the device survives. Margaret Colvin invented the Triumph Rotary Washer, which was exhibited in the Women’s Pavilion at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia. A 1876 advertisement published in Argentina. Electric washing machines were advertised and discussed in newspapers as early as 1904. Fisher has been incorrectly credited with the invention of the electric washer.
The “inventor” of the electric washing machine remains unknown. US electric washing machine sales reached 913,000 units in 1928. 1932 the number of units shipped was down to about 600,000. It is presumed that the first laundromat opened in Fort Worth, Texas in 1934. It was run by Andrew Clein. Patrons used coin-in-the-slot facilities to rent washing machines.