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From barrels and punch cards to smart electronics: how washing machines conquered humanity



Today, an automatic washing machine is in every house. It would seem that it is simpler: put dirty things, filled up powder, pressed a couple of buttons - and in an hour got clean clothes. But that wasn't always the case. A couple of centuries ago, washing was considered incredibly hard work. We remember how pot-bellied barrels with blades turned into elegant household appliances.

From barrels and punch cards to smart electronics: how washing machines conquered humanity

About washing things humanity thought more than one Millennium ago. Already in Ancient Egypt for the description of this procedure, there was a corresponding hieroglyph - two legs in the water. And in Homer's "Odyssey" mentioned washing on the shore: with ordinary water and clay. Ingeniously approached the problem in the era of Great geographical discoveries - sailors tied clothes and threw on a rope overboard. During movement of the vessel, foam streams washed away dirt from the fabric. Those who never left the land had more difficult: laundresses for many centuries rubbed, rinsed and wrung things by hand.

From a barrel with a crosspiece to a box with wheels

The best minds have long tried to mechanize this exhausting work. For example, in the records of the great Leonardo da Vinci, who lived in the XV century, in addition to sketches of "helicopters", "submarines" and other futuristic at the time units, was found a sketch of the prototype of the washing device. Paradoxically, the first to implement such an idea was not the inventors, but ordinary hard workers - farmers of Western Europe and American gold miners of the 1850s.

Newspaper is the washing machine. New York, 1860

Washing machine. New York, 1860

The wooden barrel was equipped with a cross on the vertical axis. There was filled with soapy water that was placed on linen and hand-spun the axle. The clothes are rubbed and rolled over and over through the crossbar. Particularly savvy devices supplied drive belt or gear. And one enterprising prospector from California during the "gold rush" even made the unit, driven by a dozen harnessed mules. So it was possible to wash 10-20 shirts at the same time.

Patenting such things began in the middle of the XIX century. One of the first to register his invention was an American named Moore. He, in 1856 created a box on wheels, over which - by pressing the lever - moved the wooden frame. In the box fit clothing and covered in soapy water, and then there poured wooden balls. As the frame went up and down, the balls rolled over the fabric, providing additional mechanical impact.

Mass production

By 1870, a patent boom began in the United States: the number of applications for unique washing devices exceeded two thousand. But most of the developments remained prototypes - the ideas proposed by the designers were often controversial. Much luckier for William Blackstone. This inventor from Indiana just wanted to please his wife on her birthday. His machine for handwashing appreciated not only his wife, but thousands of other American women - Blackstone established in 1874 serial production. The devices he sold at a very affordable price - $2.5 apiece (for comparison, the same cost three pairs of white shirts).

William Blackstone Washing Machine, 1874

William Blackstone Washing Machine, 1874

In Europe, too, did not lose time. The German brand Miele became a pioneer. Initially, this small family company specialized in milk separators and churns. But in 1900, engineer Carl Mile was visited by a brilliantly simple idea. He modified the churn, adapting it to wash clothes. Instead of milk and cream in a wooden tub laid clothes, poured water and rotated the blades with a manual drive. In the same year, Miele put on stream the production of such units. They enjoyed great success with Housewives throughout Europe.

Automation of washing

Revolution in the development of washing machines has been the application of motors - at first, they worked on petrol or steam, and then electricity. The first to think about the automation of labor Americans. In 1910, inventor Alva Fisher of Chicago patented an electric machine, calling it Thor. However, only wealthy citizens could afford the novelty - electricity in the States was a luxury until the 1930s.

Automation of washing

A wooden drum was placed in the partially galvanized tank "Torah". Due to the motor drum did eight rotations in one direction and then the other. There were also press rollers. As befits a unit named after the Scandinavian God of thunder, he rattled while working fairly. But wash now does not require manual effort! Only now the whole process had to control - the fabric is not wrapped around a rotating part and not a burnt-out motor.

At the dawn of the 1920s, the washing machine industry in the United States developed at a rapid pace: more than 1,400 companies produced equipment. It is not surprising that over the decade the price of "electric laundresses" fell from 150 to 60 dollars. However, few of the manufacturers thought about consumer safety and ergonomics - all transmission units were open. The situation began to change at the dawn of the 30s. Wooden barrels, upholstered in sheet copper, gave way to enameled steel tanks. Dangerous parts of the mechanisms thought up to close the elegant plastic plates. At the same time, washing devices rapidly evolved - they began to be equipped with timers, thermostats, electric pressure regulators and drain pumps.

automatic washing machine

Already in the late forties in the States released the world's first automatic washing machine. The miracle of technology sample 1949 had a software unit that worked on punch cards. In Europe, the inventors also proved themselves: they looked at the overseas novelties, comprehended and improved. So there was a machine that performs a full cycle of washing, including spin. It happened in the early '50s through the efforts of Miele and other German firms.

In the second half of the XX century washing devices gradually became more effective and functional. Significantly changed the filling, mechanical blocks one by one went into the past, giving way to electronics as it spread. Of course, the appearance changed: pot-bellied "tubs" turned into elegant appliances with a futuristic design.

Smart electronics

Perhaps one of the most notable achievements of modern washing machines is not so much the design of the case (since the 90s it has not changed much), but the software itself. We are used to the fact that the device has dozens of different modes and programs for different types of fabric. It is not easy to develop such SOFTWARE: the principle of so-called fuzzy logic is used to implement many options. The device is embedded Prorva sensors - smart electronics assesses the weight of clothing, the degree of contamination, the amount of water needed for washing, and so on. In tens inputs, the microprocessor sets optimal settings.

Smart electronics

For example, Miele WWR880 WPS is equipped with a variety of programs and modes for effective and gentle washing of different types of fabric

Most modern innovations are hidden from the user's eyes, but their advantages are obvious when washing. For example, Miele created a drum with a cellular structure. Due to its unique design, a thin water-soap film is formed on its surface. Linen slides on it and does not cling to the wall - so reduced wear of fabrics.

The machines themselves are equipped with weight sensors. They weigh the Laundry and, depending on the selected mode, economically consume water and detergent. For the same purpose, many models of the brand are equipped with PowerWash 2.0 technology. A special pump during washing pumps out the water with the washing solution from the bottom of the tank and injects it into the center of the drum and loaded Laundry.

Smart electronics

Special attention is paid to software optimization. Miele is constantly improving the algorithms of washing machines. And to update them to the user is not more difficult than to download the next firmware to your smartphone. For example, in Europe, there is already a mobile application for remote control of some models of Miele devices.


Surprisingly, for more than 150 years of existence of washing machines, the principle of their operation has not changed much. It is expressed by a simple formula: "water + detergent + mechanical rotation = clean linen". All the rest is technological improvement. They, however, significantly improve the quality of washing and allow us not to think about it at all. Why else do we need progress?


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