vintage laundry machines
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
November 16, 2023 ·  4 min read

These Changed Our Daily Lives Dramatically: Do You Know What These Are?

As the population has grown, so too has the desire to make life easier. Thanks to the innovation of people throughout generations, technology has made some incredible strides to accomplish a life of leisure and ease. For example, once grueling household chores like laundry have been made easier by inventions such as the laundry machine, like the vintage ‘ringer’ washing machine you see below. However, laundry has a long-standing and complex history, including the evolution of these machines over time.

Vintage washing machine. Image Credit: Funky Junk Interiors

Laundry has been a part of everyday life for thousands of years. It has been washed in the river, hung out across trees to dry, been a service offered by hotels, and was even part of a complex system in ancient times. Long before the laundry machine was invented, people had to be creative when it came to doing laundry.

Earliest Form of Clothing

Firstly, the materials used for clothing and the process of cleaning said clothing have both undergone complex transformations. Scientists have discovered remnants of ancient clothing in places like Spain and Germany from between 780,000 and 400,000 years ago. However, it’s unclear what these materials are made of or how they were cleaned. On the other hand, more recently, medieval Europeans had a complex system in place for washing their clothing, often made of silk, wool, or leather. Europeans used tools like a scrubbing board and washing bat to agitate clothing in the running river water, then would smooth out the fabric and lay it flat in the sun to dry.

In Need of a Laundry Machine

Old-fashioned laundry tool (washboard and bat)
Credit: Shutterstock

Alternatively, people in warmer climates, like ancient Rome and Egypt had other materials for their clothing including plant fibers or wool. Scientists and Historians have found evidence that both ancient civilizations once did laundry, a grueling task without a laundry machine. Like ancient Europeans, the Egyptians also did their laundry in the river. Meanwhile, the Romans were the first to offer laundry services. The Romans developed a complex system in which clothing was washed in large vats. This was done by the men who would rigorously stomp on the clothing in the tubs. The clothing was then hung to dry, prior to being “combed out”. In some cases, the clothing was “treated” with sulfur or Cimolian Earth to whiten, an ancient alternative to bleach.

Not Quite a Laundry Machine

Old retro washing machine called Frania with a laundry wringer
Credit: Shutterstock

The invention of the laundry machine was still far off, and most ancient people put physical work into accomplishing the task of laundry. However, it was these tools used by ancient civilizations that would one day inspire modern laundry machines. In the meantime, some version of washboards, tubs, combs, and other tools were used until the invention of the washing tub with a hand crank to agitate the clothes clean.

While clothing is still made of animal skins, furs, and wool, depending on the country, one of the most common materials used for clothing today is polyester. A synthetic fiber that can be blended with fibers like cotton or used on its own to make clothing. As materials have changed, so too have the methods for doing laundry. The unpopular house chore is substantially easier than it once was, and more so today with the help of the laundry machine. Maytag Corporation, founded in 1893 by F.L. Maytag, introduced a consumer-based version of a wooden tub laundry machine in 1907. Only a few years later, a competitor company, Whirlpool, released a version of the laundry machine that was a motor powered “wringer” washer.

Photo Credit: OHEA

Innovation at its Best

Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. during the mid-1800s brought about a new vision. The possibility of rapidly expanding production while minimizing costs brought a whole new meaning to success. As a result, companies were looking at expanding beyond the consumer and looking at commercial business opportunities. Within a 10-year span, 2 American men, James King in 1851 and Hamilton Smith in 1858, patented closely related machines that have been deemed by historians as the first true washers. New ideas and improvements were constantly brought to light, and in 1876, the “Shakers”, a protestant sect of Christianity, came up with a model of a laundry machine so popular it was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Evolution of the Laundry Machine

However, it wasn’t until 1908 that the first commercial electric laundry machine was introduced. Alva J. Fisher sold his invention, Thor, through the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago. The drum-like laundry machine had a galvanized tub and was just the start of the company’s innovative ideas. Thanks to these larger scale laundry machines, hotels and other businesses were able to offer laundry services with ease. In 2008, Appliances International purchased the trademark to the name Thor and released a new line shortly after.

Laundry is done worldwide, has been present for centuries, and has undergone numerous transformations since the earliest records of civilization. While most people don’t think twice about the complexities of the clothing they wear, countless hours have been invested into things like the materials used by fashion designers. Or how colors and patterns have changed with the seasons and trends. To the innovative technology of laundry machines intended to bring peace of mind and ease to the laundry process. The unpopular chore has unquestionably been made easier, thanks to the innovation of the generations that came before us and the obstacles they overcame.

Keep Reading: Why Your Clean Laundry May Not Be Smelling As Good As It Should Be


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