Appliances: The History and Advancements of the Washer and Dryer

From scrubbing clothes by hand against stones, the invention of the scrub board in 1797 was only a slight improvement. In the 1800s, hand-turned drums were the beginning of the washing machine, as we know it today. Still it wasn't until William Blackstone designed the first hand-driven washing machine for home use in 1874 that technology began the fast leap forward that would combine with the invention of the dryer to revolutionize the way laundry is done. Today, nearly every home has a washer and dryer. Even though the basic design of the dryer has not changed much in hundreds of years, changes are in the making. New technologies and designs for dryers that use solar power or microwaves may soon make the traditional tumble dryer as obsolete as the scrub board.

The Washing Machine

The washing machine radically changed how people did laundry. Prior to the invention of the washing machine, doing laundry took enormous amounts of time and energy as water often had to be pumped or drawn from a well, carried in, heated, clothes scrubbed, rinsed, and wrung out by hand. Even though the earliest designs were hand-cranked drums, it was a step in the right direction. As wringers were added to the machines in 1861 and the electric wringer style washer became available in 1911, the washing machine allowed laundry to be done more efficiently than ever. Today's washing machines are designed with convenience and energy efficiency in mind. Spin cycles have replaced wringers and automatic timing run by microchips mean there is no need to provide direct hands on labor. The choice between top loading and front loading washers or even a combination washer/dryer that does away with the need to transfer clothes from one machine to another has continued to lighten the washday load.

The Dryer

We consider a solar powered dryer today as a new innovation in the up and coming future of drying machines, but solar power was the first source of energy used to dry clothes as people washed, rinsed and wrung out clothes by hand and hung them over rocks, tree branches or later clotheslines to dry in the sun. The first dryer invented was a simple wooden rack to hang clothes near a fire to dry. The first mention of a modern type dryer appeared in the 1800s when a Frenchman by the name of Pochon invented a vented-barrel-shaped drum called a ventilator to dry clothes. Clothes were placed inside the drum and the drum was turned by hand over an open fire. It was not a very reliable method or machine, but opened the doors for future designs. Though there seems to be some controversy over the patent description of George T Sampson's dryer, he is credited with a ventilator dryer using a stove as its heat source. By 1915, the electric clothes dryer was introduced but it was not until the Hamilton Manufacturing Company produced the first automatic dryer in 1938 that the use of the dryer started to become known. From 1938 through the 1960s, the cost of owning a dryer remained out of reach for most people with a dryer in the 1950s costing the equivalent of $1600 in today's money. New technologies, production methods, and lower costs put the dryer in more homes by the late 1990s. As technology continues to open the doors to the use of cost efficient designs, the use of new technology is changing the dryer, as we now know it. Using solar dryers, vent-less dryers, also known as compression or heap pump dryers, and dryers that make use of microwave technology may soon make the tumble dryer simply another part of history. The dryer that has not changed much in design or function in over two hundred years is going through rapid change in both design and energy use. These changes will provide a more efficient use of time and resources.

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