Washing Machine History: How it Started

Imagine having to wait in line to do your laundry.  Now, imagine at the end of that line there is a stack of rocks waiting for you to scrub your clothes clean. For the longest time, this was the only way to wash clothes.  Thankfully, human ingenuity stepped in and started improving the history of the washing machine.  

A historic washboard

The first time someone put down the rock and put the clothes in a basin to be trodden upon was looked upon as either genius or ludacris (we all know people fear change). This new “stomping” process really caught on with the Romans.  They really moved the laundry business forward.  With their system, you could take your clothes to a business that would then put them in a basin and stomp around on them for a while after soaking them in animal fat and some wood ash.  This was the early version of laundry detergent. 

  The History of the Washboard

Things went along like this for some time, until the washboard entered the history of the washing machine. Washboards were pretty great when compared to stomping them clean.  With these, you were given the chance to do your own laundry right in your own stream or river.  If you had the money, you could even get a basin to do your work in.  Laundry services right at home!  It was a golden era.  Unfortunately, it lasted for hundreds of years without any real change.  

Then, suddenly, in the 18th century, someone created the first washing “machine”.  This was a huge step forward, though still a manual process.  The user would turn a crank handle and squeeze the clothes between rollers.  The machine was much more effective than rocks.  After hundreds of years, a motor was added, making this the first electric machine.

The Electric Washing Machine

original Thor washing machine

This is when the United States enters. This machine was unlike any others and affectionately named Thor. A company in Chicago, Illinois invented it.

The washing machine has been going through incremental changes ever since, ending with the machines of today. The technological advancements have truly improved our society to the point that it seems ludicrous to soak your clothes in animal fat and tree ash. 

These days washing machines have become very efficient and you can complete a load in a fraction of the time it used to take. However, laundry is still not as fast as our society desires.

The best thing about washing machines is when looked at in the overall scheme of things, it truly encapsulates the deep and powerful drive that mankind has to make the ordinary extraordinary.  And thanks to their efforts over the last several thousand years, I don’t have to stomp on my clothes to get them clean. Check out these tips to make your laundry even better.