100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Washing Machine________

Year of Invention: 1906

What Is It? An electric machine to wash and spin-dry clothes.

Who Invented It? Alva Fisher (in Chicago)

Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Americans do many millions of loads of laundry every day. With electric washing machines, each load consumes less water, creates less pollution, and saves several hours of human labor compared to a hand-washed load.

The washing machine was the first of the great electrical household convenience machines. In effect, the washing machine ushered in the domestic mechanical age in which we live.

History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

For centuries, people beat clothes on flat rocks at the edge of a stream or lake. By the height of the Roman Empire, most wealthy people had graduated to tubs, whose sudsy water was dumped into a stream or alleyway by servants after the wash. That basic wash tub didn’t change for almost 2,000 years.

To do a load of wash, a woman heated water over a fire and carried the hot water inside to her washtub. The tub was hand filled and later hand emptied. She had to heat the wash water in order to melt the soap that would clean her load of clothes. She would flake the soap from a large soap block by hand. She would have to agitate the clothes by hand, wring out the clothes by hand, haul the soapy water out and bring in the rinse water by hand, rinse her load of clothes by hand, and finally wring the clothes to a damp dry by hand.

If clothes were especially grimy or greasy, she would have to add a step where she treated them with lye and beat on the clothes (usually stomped on them in her bare feet) to work the lye in and the grease out. Washing clothes was time consuming, hard work and hard on the material in the clothes.

In the seventeenth century many washtubs added a washing dolly, a pole attached to small paddles that the user pumped up and down to agitate the clothes and soap. The washboard appeared in England sometime before 1800 and spread quickly to America, where it gained popularity.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time
Table of contents

Table of contents



Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 336

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?