Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Gratitude Day 15 Washing Machines

Today I am grateful for my washing machine. As I was loading her up this morning I was thinking of my ancestors who did not have the luxury of the washing machine. I was thinking how easy my life is that I only have to load and I am able to walk away doing other chores and come back and then hang my clothes out and the job is done.

As a society that depends on high tech gadgets and gizmos, we tend to overlook the origin of the devices that have been built to simplify our lives, such as the washing machine. We could live without it if we had to, but it would be so much more difficult, considering the fact that everything is about speed and multi-tasking these days.

Ancient peoples cleaned their clothes by pounding them on rocks or rubbing them with abrasive sands; and washing the dirt away in local streams. Evidence of ancient washing soap was found at Sapo Hill in Rome, where the ashes containing the fat of sacrificial animals was used as a soap.

tub and interior
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In the early days, without running water, gas, or electricity, even the most simplified hand-laundry used staggering amounts of time and labour. One wash, one boiling and one rinse used about fifty gallons of water which had to be moved from pump or well to the 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 men’s heavy work clothes, wearied women’s arms and wrists and exposed them to caustic substances.

Before 1800 not many people had seen a washing machine, let alone used one. For another century after that they were not found in many homes, even in developed countries where the industrial revolution was well under way. Some of the earliest went to institutions as well as private houses. A 1790's British washing machine ad targeted "the guardians of all charitable foundations, the governors of all public hospitals, and the commanders of ships and vessels appointed to long voyages".
Mechanising laundry work raised social questions. How would this affect the poorest women of all, who depended on employment as laundresses? Two of the earliest washing machine promoters, Schäffer and Beetham, felt they should discuss this when they were writing about the advantages of their machines. A satirical writer also commented:

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"Improvements were always received by the wisest in the world, whilst the prejudiced part...would for ever be inimical to reformation. ...The marvellous washing mill of Beetham's...has met the curses, execrations, and anathema of all the old laundresses, and young linen drapers in London: what then? Is not its utility apparent to every apprentice in the laundry? Are the caps and aprons of your be cruelly tortured and torn by the hands of a drunken washerwoman?" Thomas Hastings, The Regal Rambler, 1793

"...the Washing Mill is not to be improved. The advantage of cleaning by pressure...your method...will not injure a cobweb......Before [my wife] had your mill, she employed three women full eighteen hours; by means of your mill the whole is performed much better in seven hours, by one servant, and a girl to turn the Mill, aged 11 years."

The earliest washing "machine" was the scrub board invented in 1797. American, James King patented the first washing machine to use a drum in 1851, the drum made King's machine resemble a modern machine, however it was still hand powered.

"A machine for washing linen which will, in an equal space of time, wash as much linen as six or eight of the ablest washerwomen, without the use of lees [lye], and with only one third of the fire and soap.
...the common objection to machines, that they destroy the linen is, in the present invention, totally removed... entirely free from by pressure only..."

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Washing machine technology was developed as a way to eliminate the scrubbing and rubbing process, with paddles or fingers to automatically agitate the clothing. So, even if the first washing machines were hand-operated, they were still a relief for all the housewives that had to deal with the nightmare of doing the laundry. Even so, the machine itself was faster and easier to operate than washing the clothes by hand directly. And since electricity was not commonly available until about 1930, these early machines were often operated by a low-speed single-cylinder hit and miss gasoline engine. 

The Thor was the first electric-powered washing machine. Introduced in 1908 by the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago, Illinois, the Thor washing machine was invented Alva J. Fisher. The Thor was a drum type washing machine with a galvanized tub and an electric motor. A patent was issued on August 9th 1910.

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But the “upgrade” of these machines proved to be a prolonged and difficult process, thus, the earliest machines were manufactured out of wood, which made the entire activity more difficult, since the warm water had to be “recycled”, in order to wash first the less dirty clothes and then the dirtier ones. That is why later machines were made of metal, thus allowing a fire to burn below the wash tub, to keep the water warm throughout the day's washing.

The wringer/mangle was also developed, this component using two rollers under spring tension to squeeze water out of the clothing, first as a hand-operated device, and then included as a powered attachment above the washer tub.

The modern process of water removal by spinning did not come into use until electric motors were developed, since spinning requires a constant power source. What is now referred to as an automatic washer was at one time referred to as a washer/extractor, which combines the features of these two devices into a single machine, plus also includes the ability to fill and drain water by itself.

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In the early 1800s, clothes dryers were first being invented in England and France. One common kind of early clothes dryer was the ventilator, the first one known to be built was made by a Frenchman named Pochon. The ventilator was a barrel-shaped metal drum with holes in it. It was turned by hand over a fire.

The Whirlpool Corporation started in 1911 as the Upton Machine Co., founded in St. Joseph, Michigan, to produce electric motor-driven wringer washers.

The first companies that got involved in the production of washing machines were Maytag, Upton Machine Company (which became the Whirlpool Corporation) and Schulthess. They contributed to the development of the washing machines in mass production. Thus, in the 1930's, the first automatic washing machine appeared. The first top loading washing machine was introduced by General Electric, in 1947. Production of Europe's first automatic washing machines began in 1951 and in 1978 production began for the first microchip controlled automatic machines.

The first top loading washing machine, introduced by General Electric, in 1947.

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