Who Invented the Washing Machine and Dryer?

Do you know who invented the washing machine and dryer? Even though almost everyone uses these appliances few people know how they came to be.

The First Patents

It is impossible to know exactly who invented the first washing machine and dryer. Some of the patents are so old that nothing is known about the original patent holder.

  • The first British patent for a washing machine was issued in 1691. Not much is known about this machine or the creator.
  • In Germany, Jacob Christian Schäffer published a design for a washing machine in 1767.
  • In 1782 Henry Sidgier was issued a British patent for a rotating drum washer.
  • Nathaniel Briggs of New Hampshire received the first United States issued patent for a washing machine in 1797. There is very little known of this machine because a fire destroyed the records of it.
  • In 1799 a Frenchman by the name of Pochon invented the first hand cranked dryer.
  • In 1843 John E. Turnbull of Saint John, New Brunswick patented the first wringer washer. He called it the "Clothes Washer with Wringer Rolls".
  • In 1851 James King patented the first washing machine that used a drum.
  • In 1871 Margaret Plunkett Coleman introduced her patented Triumph machine at the Philadelphia Centennial.
  • In 1892 George T. Sampson received a patent on an automatic dryer. It was nothing more than a modified rack that held wet clothing near a heat source. It used heat from the stove to dry clothes in an attached barrel.
  • Near 1900 Louis Goldenberg a Ford Motor Company worker from New Jersey invented the electric washing machine. Since he worked for Ford at the time they owned the patent.
  • In 1915 the electric tumbler clothes dryer was introduced. It is not clear who exactly holds the patent to the first electric dryer.

History of Washing Clothing

People have hand-washed clothes for almost as long as they have been wearing them. This tedious process took time.

  • Soak the fabric
  • Squeeze water through to remove dirt
  • Rub with a soap of some kind to remove stains like oils and grease
  • Treat with fragrance to cover odors

The earliest homemakers achieved this by pounding the clothing with rocks in the river. Later, washboards were developed that helped streamline the process. Bleaching was necessary even back in Roman times. In order to have the whitest whites, clothing was taken to a "fuller" who put the clothing in a tub of fermented urine and agitate the clothing with his feet. Modern washing machines needed to take all of these techniques into consideration.

Need for Technology

There was an obvious need for technology to make it easier to get clothing clean more quickly. The agitation of the clothing was necessary to get it clean so before electricity was common the washing machines were hand operated.

Laundry rooms were grassy areas outside. Water was heated over a fire and then poured into the machine. Soap was added along with the clothing with the lightest amount of soil. The clothes were washed and removed from the machine. Now, the next dirtiest load of clothing was washed, and so on until all the clothing had been washed in the same water.

After the washing the machine was drained and filled with hot, clean water. The soapy clothes were wrung to remove as much soapy water as possible. They were then agitated in the rinse water. The process was repeated until all the clothing was cleaned and rinsed. This could be an all day process even though people had few clothes.

Early washing machines were made from wood but later on they were made from metal. The metal machines could have a fire built under them to keep the water conveniently hot for each load of clothing. Rollers and wringers were created to make the wringing process quicker and easier but it still took a very long time.

Electricity Becomes Available

Electricity was not commonly available to all homes until 1930 or so. Washing machines that were automatic rather than cranked by hand often depended on a single cylinder, gasoline powered engine. This engine was helpful when it was working but often was undependable at best.

vintage washer
  • Bendix received the patent for and introduced the first fully automatic washing machine in 1937.
  • General Electric introduced the first top loading automatic washing machine in 1947. This machine had many of the same features found in modern machines.
  • In the 1950s the mechanical timer was developed and simplified clothes washing for the homemaker. Washing machines did not change much for the next forty years.
  • In the 1990s James Dyson created a washing machine that had two cylinders rotating in opposite directions. This was said to make the clothes cleaner and shorten wash time.
  • In 1994 Staber Industries introduced the System 2000 washing machine. It is a top loading, horizontal axis washer. Because the tub spins like a front loading machine it uses only about one third of the water normally used by a washing machine.
  • In 2006 Sanyo introduced a washing machine that uses only 50 L of water because it recycles the water used.
  • In 2008, the University of Leeds created a prototype machine that used only one cup of water per load of laundry. This would save huge amounts of water every year.

Evolving Technology

Many people contributed to the evolution of the washing machine and the dryer over the years. These inventions, like many others cannot be attributed to any one person. It is impossible to say who invented the washing machine and dryer but only to point out the many people who made it possible. Appliance manufacturers continue to evolve the technology, creating more efficient technology to meet industrial and home laundry cleaning needs.

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Who Invented the Washing Machine and Dryer?