The first patent for a metal washboard was obtained in 1833 by S. Rust of New York. However, some argue the origins of the washboard date back to the 1700s. Washboards have a wood frame with a scrubbing area that can be made of wood, copper, brass, tin, zinc-coated metal, or graniteware. During World War II glass washboards became popular due to a shortage of metal.
In the mid-1850s steam-driven commercial laundry machines were available and sparked the demand for household versions. In the 1900s, Alva Fisher invented the first electric washer. Fisher’s “Thor” was a drum-style washer featuring a galvanize tube and electric motor. Single-cylinder hit-and-miss gasoline engines powered early machines in homes where electricity was not available.
Bendix Home Appliances introduced the first domestic automatic washing machine in 1937. By the 1940s most families in the United States owned an electric washer.
However, In the UK electric washing machines did not become popular until the following decade due to the impact World War II had on the economy.
Modern appliance manufacturers continue to find ways to reduce costs while improving efficiency. Features we currently rely on such as timers, child locks, and variable speeds and temperature settings were unheard of in the early 1900s. Today more than 85% of homes in the US have washing machines.
Visit our museum to see many antique appliances, like the 1900 Cataract washer, and stop by The PAST Antiques Marketplace to purchase your very own washboard!