Historical circuit of Town
History of washing
Oskar Schindler


The need for doing laundry arose when people stopped wearing skins and started to wear fabric clothes. As man developed he increasingly felt the need to keep himself and his clothing clean.

At the beginning only clean water was used for washing clothes; the clothing was soaked, pounded, and rinsed in the water. Over time people began to notice that the addition of certain substances in the water during the soaking stage helped accelerate and simplify the removal of dirt from the clothing. In ancient Egypt the hieroglyphic symbol for washing clothes was two legs in water, which meant that at the time laundry was mainly done by stamping on the clothes in the water. Washing facilities in ancient Rome were famous: fullers washed laundry in large vats filled with whitewash, lye, urine, and water. The fullers would then stamp on the clothing, wring it out, and rinse it in clean water. Only later was the use of various paddles and beaters introduced. Prior to washing the laundry was soaked in water with a mixture of animal fat and wood ash. The invention of soap represented a giant step forward, even if this wasn’t soap as we know it today. For a long time soap was used as a cosmetic agent. The greatest advance in the history of laundry was the invention of washboards. Washboards were made of various materials in different periods; these included wood, fired clay, stone, metal, glass, and artificial materials. We are not exactly sure when washboards were first created and used, but in this country they were used regularly into the 1950s, at which point they were replaced entirely by washing machines. The first attempts at simplifying and above all accelerating laundry work began in the mid-18th century in England when Stender designed the first washing machine. His work was followed by American Hamilton Smith’s drum washer, in which the laundry was moved by blades. In 1790 the Englishman Beetham engineered a washing machine that used only a current of water. However, these experiments never achieved a level of practical application. The production of usable washing machines didn’t arrive until the end of the 19th century with the development of the Industrial Revolution; these machines were first used in laundry facilities, hospitals, and later in households. At the beginning the machines were simple, semi-cylindrical washing containers on legs inside which another semi-cylindrical washboard agitated against a wood lathed grate on the bottom. The laundry rubbed between these two washboards until it was clean. However, clothes washed in this manner were exposed to high mechanical strain and were easily damaged, especially finer fabrics. For this reason the shape and placement of these frictional surfaces was gradually modified; the surfaces were lightened with water or various mechanisms to prevent the clothes from being overly worn out. It soon became apparent that it was sufficient for the laundry to simply swirl in water, especially with the development and accessibility of higher quality soap. Additional types of washing machines were developed in which clothes were moved about by various kinds of washers, blades, or pegs driven by a crank, lever, or around, either directly or with different gears. Nearly all washing machines were made of wood; hinges, hitches, and gears were made of metal. This implies that the most common machines could be made directly on order in home wood workshops. Later shops and companies were founded for the production, for example, of both casks and washing machines, as the construction of these two items was more or less the same. The growing popularity of washing machines and the rising interest in more complicated and hence, for the most part, better machines led to the creation of specialized companies that were involved exclusively with washing machines for commercial sale. One such company was Hobza a spol. from Hranice na Moravě, which manufactured washing machines under the label IDEAL as far back as 1904. The company enjoyed good sales in the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well as in Russia, Romania, and as far away as Egypt.
Roller or press wringers were used to remove excess water from the washed clothes; these advances were a definite improvement over exhausting hand wringing or the somewhat better device known as a "squiggle." The next and likely the greatest advance, as was the case with the majority of technical branches, was the introduction of electricity and its use in small motors patented in 1894 by Nikola Tesla. These motors enabled simple drives for various machines; naturally these soon included washing machines. The first motor-driven washing machine was allegedly built by American Alva Fischer as early as 1906. At the beginning motors were simply mounted on existing types of washing machines, merely modifying the transmission from manual to powered - either directly or through the use of belts or gears. But in time completely new models were designed. An important advance was the transition to the production of metal washing machines, as this made it possible to create entirely different machine shapes and hence a new swirling style of washing. Machines appeared on the market with variously shaped ribbed washing assemblies on the bottom of the metal vessel; these moved back and forth at an angle between 90° to 120°. Vacuum washers represented another method in which washing was achieved by the vertical movement of one or several bells. It is interesting that this type of washing machine was quite rare in Czech lands but very widespread in the USA []. Attempts at saving the greatest amount of work led designers to the idea of heating water directly inside the washing machine. At the beginning water was heated from below the washing machine like in a stove, but the use of electricity was gradually introduced. Spin driers began to replace wringers; the spin drier mechanism was typically connected in a single unit with the washing machine. The spin drier was driven either by a separate motor or by a suitable transmission from the motor of the washing machine itself. Washing machines had a very robust construction, since at the beginning the spin driers were firmly attached to the body of the washing machine. Once the spin drier drum was fitted with rubber dampers that absorbed the powerful vibration caused by unevenly loaded laundry in the drum, light metal combined washing machines with spin driers could be built. Doing laundry in this type of washing machine, which was equipped with a small propeller on the side or a worm on the bottom of the washing drum was already extremely simple but still very time consuming. The laundry had to wash, spin, rinse, spin again - all while being attended by the operator. But advancements focussed on the complete elimination of lost time while doing laundry, leading to an automatic washing machine combining all washing operations in a single drum.
The latest types of washing machines are able to wash and dry clothes so that only ironing is necessary afterwards. The history of clothes washing was always connected to the development level and technical capabilities of individual countries. For example, while automatic washing machines were commonplace in the United States after the end of the Second World War, wooden manual Triumf washing machines were still being produced in Czechoslovakia. This indicates that there were still a great number of villages that did not have electricity. Naturally, the country was able to catch up with the rest of the world very quickly, as the production of the first automatic washing machines here began in 1957 at the Romo factory in Fulnek. The significance of washing machines for households is best demonstrated in the fact that washing machines with gasoline powered motors were delivered to areas of the USA and Canada that did not yet have electricity. The time between the birth of an invention and its practical application continues to get shorter. While this period in the past may have been decades or even centuries, today it has been shortened to a few years or even months. It's no wonder then that the washing machine, born in the middle of the 19th century, didn’t become a common household appliance for another 100 years. Man has been washing clothes since time immemorial and it is clear that he’ll need to continue doing so for a long time to come; time will only tell what new technology will become available.

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