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07 March 2013
Romance. Love. Chivalry.
These are all elements in how the washing machine – one of our most loved and cherished of devices – came into existence. Feeling confused? Skeptical perhaps? Then clearly it's time for us to tell you of the Heartwarming Origins of the Washing Machine.
Firstly, let's establish some context. In all the excitement we tend to experience in our day to day dealings with the washing machine, it's easy to forget that – although revolutionary, our much loved device was not simply a contraption that sprung up from the earth one day after a great sage had a spiritual experience on top of a mountain. Nay, the tale of the washing machine is as much a testament to the spirit of technological development and reinvention as anything else that has ever existed in human history.
Unlike devices such as, say, the dishwasher – which only sprang up in any form at all late in human history (let's remember that "dishes" as we understand them, as well as the idea of "clean food", are both relatively newfangled concepts) "clothe-washing tools" have been used for almost as long as clothes have been worn, and mankind has perpetually attempted to find ways to make the job easier, and less monotonous.
It is thought that cave men would clean their clothes by pounding them with rocks and course sands. The Romans upped the ante by creating soap from ashes and animal fat (as evidence found at Sapo Hill in Rome, suggests), and the scrub board (now perhaps better known as an instrument in American folk music) was invented in 1797.
But where the big boys really appeared on the scene and started to initiate the revolution in human happiness which we now refer to irreverently as "the washing machine", is in the era of industrial triumph known as the 19th century, where an American inventor by the name of Hamilton E. Smith took it upon himself to create the first "rotary washing machine" in 1858.
A revolution, an epiphany (but not the romance we referred to in the opening sentence), the rotary washing machine was at least one half of what we could recognise today as a "modern washing machine". The device was: a large drum with a crank on its side, which turned a paddle within the drum, which in turn swirled the chosen items of clothing around within the watery contents of the drum.
At this point it would be prudent for us to ask you to pause for a moment, and consider the question – "what's the most romantic gift that you've ever given to someone up to this point?" Was it memorable? Ceative?
William Blackstone gave his wife the first modern washing machine.
Yes, in 1874 Mr. William Blackstone of Indiana built his wife the world's first "modern washing machine" and presented it to her as a birthday present. William Blackstone was a corn machine manufacturer, which somehow seems to make this story more endearing and romantic.
Blackstone's machine was a tub, in which sat a flat piece of wood fixed with pegs. As a handle and some gears were activated, the piece of wood moved around in the tub – the pegs caught the clothing, and dragged them through the hot water. Why do we describe this as the "first modern washing machine?"
Because the device was so successful, that within 5 years of its creation Mr. Blackstone and his family had moved to New York and opened a factory which is still operating today.
So next time you go to put a load in the wash, remember this: It was love that made your laundry this simple.