Washing machine invention dates back to issuing the first English patent under the category of washing machines in 1691. In a publication in 1767, Jacob Christian Schäffer (German) explained the design of a washing machine. Early inventors of the washing machine are Henry Sidgier (British), Edward Beetham (British), Nathaniel Briggs (American) and Watervliet Shaker Village (American), and John E. Turnbull (Canadian). However, all those inventive ideas led to primitive washing machines. Invariably, they had wooden chambers attached with handles for manual operation.
Eventually, hand-operated devices ended with the invention of Electric washing machines in 1904, replacing the role of the manual process by attaching an electric motor. Although Alva J. Fisher has been incorrectly credited with the invention of the electric washer, the “inventor” of the electric washing machine remains unclear. Further advancement giving birth to the automatic washing machine, leading to modern washers, became routine corporate tasks for sustaining innovations.
Washing clothes is an arduous process. It involves soaking, beating, scrubbing, and rinsing dirty textiles—often occupying an entire day of hard work. Besides, there are jobs of drying and ironing. Hence, creative minds felt the urgency of inventing washing machines. Perhaps, nobody complains about the job loss due to the automation of this rigorous cloth washing job by the invention of the washing machine. In fact, this is one of the rare dull jobs that has been automated. Despite the sale of 101 million washing machines in 2020, nearly five billion of the world’s population of seven billion (in 2010) hand-wash their clothes. One of the significant barriers to the diffusion of washing machines among the vast majority is the need for electricity and water supply and drainage.
Key takeaways of washing machine invention
- Inventors and date of invention of washing machine–the first English Patent in the category of washing machine was issued in 1691. Early inventors of the washing machine are Henry Sidgier (British), Edward Beetham (British), Nathaniel Briggs (American) and Watervliet Shaker Village (American), and John E. Turnbull (Canadian).
- Birth of the washing machine from grassroots Innovation–the washing machine invention is a typical example of grassroots innovation, an invention emerged as an alternative by reorganizing things that were within easy reach through tinkering and Craftsmanship to get a difficult daily life job done better.
- Washing machine evolution–to improve washing performance and reduce labor needs, the washing machine has been evolving through incremental advancements and reinvention by changing technology coe.
- Scaling of grassroots innovations demands technology possibilities–the invention and evolution of the washing machine give the lesson that scaling up grassroots innovation demands technology possibilities.
Early washing machine invention—hand-operated wooden chambers:
Numerous firms are involved in the innovation, design, manufacturing, and sales of more than 100 million washing machines. In 2021, Washing Machines generated US$76,129m revenue.
But early washing machine invention appears to be a grassroots idea. In those days, wooden barrels were used to store water and other liquid substances. The idea of inventing the washing machine was to make a hole at the center of such barrels and insert a shaft with a handle. Upon inserting cloth and pouring water and soap through an opening, people used to manually rotate the shaft. Although it improved the process, humans had to provide energy to operate the machine.
As early as 1691, the issuance of English patents for washing machines began. For sure, Jacob Christian Schäffer (1767) deserves credit for the invention of the washing machine. After 30 years, in 1797, Nathaniel Briggs, an American, followed him and obtained the first patent for a washing machine. The journey began as a mechanical machine, with the release of the first washing machine in England in 1830. Till 1904, creative activities in Europe, the USA, and Canada were mainly for the advancement of manually operated wooden machines. It took more than 200 years to change the mechanical technology core with electrical.
Electrical Era of Washing Machines:
It began by replacing the human role in rotating the shaft with an electric motor. Although attaching an electric motor started a new era of washing machine invention in 1904, the name of the actual inventor is not known. Due to freeing humans from the rotating shaft, the diffusion accelerated. For example, US electric washing machine sales reached 913,000 units in 1928. Subsequently, in 1937, Bendix Home Appliances introduced the first domestic automatic washing machine. The company also applied for a patent in the same year.
The basic technique of inventing the automatic machine was to rely on electromechanical timers to sequence the washing and extraction process. It engages or disengages a particular part of the machinery, such as the drain pump motor, at the appropriate time in the wash cycle. Winston L. Shelton and Gresham N. Jennings of General Electric invented this technique in 1957. Due to the demand for more flexibility for adapting washing (such as wash time) to different types of fabrics, electrical timers came into existence. The progression of electronic devices such as Transistor led to fully electronic timers. Due to very high perceived value, despite the far higher price, automatic washing machine sales exceeded those of wringer-type electric machines.
Continued Progression of Washing Machine Inventions:
Due to the change of technology core from electromechanical control to electronic and software, washing machines have been experiencing continued incremental advancements. One of the areas of innovations has been in types such as top-loading, front-loading, and variant and hybrid designs. Once loaded with clothes, soap, and hot water, upon starting, the earlier washing machine used to do only a simple washing job. Due to software-centric electronic control, designers have been offering increasing variations and better performance. For example, modern washing machines start and stop many different processes, including pumps and valves to fill and empty the drum with water. Besides, it does heating and rotating at different speeds, with varying combinations of settings for adapting with different fabrics.
Journey of inventing a grassroots idea and scaling it up by leveraging technology possibilities:
There has been an intense urge to get dull, dirty, and rigorous washing jobs easier. Hence, inventors came up with a grassroots idea of automation. They pursued the idea of shaping readily available components and integrating them in a purposeful way to invent the washing machine. However, since then, washing machine invention has been progressing. Improvements have been in washing performance, reducing human labor, increasing efficiency, and adapting washing with different types of fabrics. Furthermore, improvement targeted heating and drying washed clothes. As a result, the perceived value of washing machine invention has been growing, leading to increasing diffusing as progressive waves.
In this journey, the change of technology core in reinventing the controller has played a significant role. it has been at the core of scaling up a grassroots idea into a commercial success, creating jobs, firms, and industries. Besides, innovators also look into varying requirements of different customer segments, resulting in various types of washing machines. For sure, the advancement of technology progression empowered innovators in creating variations.
The question could be the what is the next big inventive idea in the washing machine. First of all, the use of water should be reduced, preferably inventing the waterless washing machine. The next one is automating ironing. Still, to date, ironing is a laborious household chore. No one likes it. Hopefully, inventors will come up with the washing machine requiring no water. Perhaps, future washing machines will turn dirty clothes cleaned, ironed, and nicely folded by themselves.