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The History Of...

  • The Heartwarming Origins of the Washing Machine

    07 March 2013

    By Dan Wessels

     

    Romance. Love. Chivalry.

    These are all elements in how the washing machine – one of our most beloved and cherished devices – came into existence.

    Feeling confused? Skeptical? Well then, it's clearly time for us to enlighten you about the Heartwarming Origins of the Washing Machine.

    Let's set the stage:

    People have been cleaning clothes for as long as they've been wearing them. Scholars think that cavemen used sand and rocks to rub the dirt out of their loin cloths. The Romans took it to the next level by making soap from ash and animal fat, and in 1797 the scrub board was invented (now better known as an instrument in American folk music). Things really picked up in 1858, when Hamilton Smith of Philadelphia created the "rotary washing machine" (a drum with a crank on the side, which turned a paddle and stirred up the water.)

    By the time that all of these techniques had been developed, you could probably sense the anticipation of great things hanging in the air.

    The setting was just right for a true visionary to step in and take humanity all the way to a full, modern washing machine experience.

     

    That visionary was William Blackstone of Indiana, and the year of his mighty work was 1874.

    Let's pause there for a second. I have a question to ask you, readers:

    What was the most romantic thing that you've ever done for a loved one? Bought them some really great flowers? Taken them out for a moonlit picnic?

    William Blackstone gave his wife the world's first modern washing machine as a birthday present. Game over.

    In fact, that seems to have been his main reason for creating the thing at all, which is beautiful all by itself.

     

    Blackstone's revolutionary washing machine was the model for everything that came after.

    It had a flat wooden disc covered in pegs, resting inside a tub. As a handle and some gears were activated on the outside, the piece of wood moved around in the tub – the pegs caught the clothing, and dragged them through the hot water in alternating patterns.

    What makes the whole story even better is that Mr. Blackstone was a corn machine manufacturer, not a career inventor or washmaster at all. His masterpiece was inspired directly by cupid and the gods of romance and absolutely nothing else. Probably.



    On a completely unrelated note, it also happened to pay off in a big way.

    When the device went public it was so successful, that within 5 years of its creation Mr. Blackstone and his family had moved to New York and opened a factory there which is still operating today.

    So, the next time you're about to load up your washing machine, first light some candles and put a Lionel Richie album on in homage. It makes sense.

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