How washing machines have changed over time

By Niamh Diskin

old rotary washing machine
new washing machine
old scrub board 1797
rotary washing machine 1862
metal washing machine
new washing machine

History Interview 

Interview with my granny, Jane O’Connor

Q1. Have you ever used a washing machine?

Yes I have used both the new and old versions of a washing machine.

Q2. How often did you use this object?

I used it every second or third day, not as often as families use it today!

Q3. Do you prefer the new or old version?

I prefer the new version as it’s much easier to use and less manual work.

Q4. When did you first buy an electrical washing machine?

I bought my first electrical washing machine in 1960.

Q5. How much did a washing machine cost in 1960?

In 1960 the cost of my washing machine was about £300, today that’s equivalent to 2400. We had to pay it off in installments. Evert month a man would come to our house to collect the money

Q6. Would most people have owned a washing machine?

Very few people owned one; they could not afford a washing machine.

Q7. How has the washing machine changed over time?

At first we used a wash tub and board to wash our clothes. We then had a wooden rotary washing machine; this was a manual, wooden washing machine. Then we bought our first electrical washing machine.

Q8. Did males, females or both use the washing machine?

Only females would use it. The males would work on the farm


Washing by hand

The earliest washing “machine” was the scrub board invented in 1797. It was made from wood and cost about $35.00.

Early machines

More advancements were made to washing machine technology in the form of the rotating drum design.  Basically, these early design consisted of a drum washer that was rotated by hand to make the wooden drums rotate washing the clothes.  As metal drums started to replace the traditional wooden drums, it allowed for the drum to turn above an open fire, raising the water temperature for more effective washes

Electric washing machines were advertised in newspapers as early as 1904. US electric washing machine sales reached 913,000 units in 1928. Washer design improved during the 1930s the machine was now enclosed within a cabinet. By 1940, 60% of the 25,000,000 wired homes in the United States had an electric washing machine.

Automatic machines

Bendix Corporation introduced the first domestic automatic washing machine in 1937. Many of the early automatic machines had coin-in-the-slot facilities and were installed in the basement laundry rooms of apartment houses.

Modern machines

From 1990 onwards new features and designs of washing machines became available making washing more cost-effective.

Features available in most modern consumer washing machines:

  • Delayed execution: a timer to delay the start of the laundry cycle
  • Pre-defined programs for different laundry types
  • Rotation speed settings
  • Variable temperatures, including cold wash
  • Child lock
  • Steam
  • Time remaining indication

Comments about this page

  • Interesting photos of machines Niamh.
    Did your Grandmother use a Mangle or ‘Wringer’ following her large wash ie; bed linen?

    By Noelene Beckett Crowe (17/02/2020)
  • I was born in 1950. my mother did not have an automatic clothes washer until we had left the house in the late 1960s, but she had a wringer washer up to the time we grew up.

    By sandra mitchell (15/02/2020)

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