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History of the Automatic Washing Machine

Updated April 17, 2017

A considerate and inventive husband created the washing machine as a gift for his wife. It started as a simple device that still required a lot of work to run, but over time it developed into a helpful machine that saves homemakers a great deal of time. Now it's hard to imagine life without them.

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Before Washing Machines

Until 1797, when the washboard was invented, people cleaned their clothes by soaking them in water, beating them on rocks and rinsing the dirt away in streams. Sometimes they used sand to scrub away grime.

A Great Birthday Gift

William Blackstone, a merchant from Indiana, built his wife a machine to clean clothes for her birthday in 1874. His invention consisted of a wooden tub with a board inside holding six small pegs. The tub could be filled with hot, soapy water. The clothes would snag on the pegs, and the board could be moved back and forth with a handle and gears. He built and sold his machines for £1.60.

Improvements to the Design

The early 1900s saw many improvements, including drive belts that used steam or gasoline engines, metal tubs that replaced wooden ones, wringers, and electric motors. Earlier machines were powered by hand cranks, wheels, pump handles, ropes or even donkeys.


Maytag built its first washing machine in 1907, and it was operated by a rotary handle. In 1922, the company invented the agitator to force water through the clothes instead of pulling the clothes through water.

Modern Machines

In the mid-1930s, John Chamberlain invented a device to wash, rinse and extract water from clothes in a single operation. A predecessor of the Whirlpool Co. introduced the first top-loading automatic machine in 1947. Wringer machines remained popular until 1953, when sales of automatic washers exceeded them. Other developments, such as different cycles for different fabrics and push buttons, followed.

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About the Author

Amanda Hermes

Amanda Hermes has been a freelance writer since 2009. She writes about children's health, green living and healthy eating for various websites. She has also been published on EdutainingKids.com, Parents Tips Blog and Weekly Woof Blog and she has worked as a ghostwriter for parenting articles. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of North Texas.

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