Is washing machine a luxury or a necessity

History of the washing machine

Chronology of a revolutionary invention, from development to the present

Up to the 18th century, washing was done in the municipal wash house with the help of a mallet, a brush, some soap and ashes. In many cases one had to go to the nearest village to do laundry occasionally. Washing was considered a demanding task and a luxury. But that would soon change with the innovation of some inventors and entrepreneurs. A look back at the incredible journey of a device that is part of our everyday life these days.

Mechanical washing machines


Jacob Christian Schäffer

A German, Jacob Christian Schäffer, invented the washing machine. This scientist really was a jack of all trades.

With a degree in philosophy and theology and a member of many learned societies, including the Academy of Sciences in Paris, Jacob Christian Schäffer prepared a botany handbook for pharmacists and physicians, designed a new ornithological classification method and carried out important work in mycology and entomology as well as experiments relating to optics and electricity. In 1786 Goethe himself visited the great scholar's cabinet of curiosities.


On March 31 of this year, an American, Nathaniel Briggs, filed the first patent for a washing machine.

mechanical washing machines appeared in England. <1843 

An American, John E. Turnbul, invented the roller washing machine.


James King filed a patent for the first drum machine. However, the model was still mechanical and the engine was powered by a crank. Nevertheless, the physical exertion was reduced.


A James King machine included one built-in wringer, which made washing easier.


The French François Proust created a more hygienic prototype with a double boiler: the steam sterilized the clothes. But only a few materials could be treated in this way.


The French manufacturer Flandriabrought the “Barboteuse” onto the market. Thanks to these manual washing machines, household linen could be washed at home in better conditions than in the laundries.

First the laundry had to be cooked in a washing machine. The laundry was often prepared with wood ash (rich in potash, this served as detergent and removed odors). Then the laundry was put in the machine, then the wheel was turned: the back and forth motion turned the laundry in both directions, then the dirty water was drained through a gutter.

Electric washing machines


An american engineer, Alva John Fisher, is generally considered to be the inventor of the first electric washing machine. While at least one patent was filed for another electric model before his. However, the identity of the inventor is still unknown today. Wooden tanks were replaced by metal.


The Hurley Electric Laundry Equipment Companylaunched the “Thor” machine, the first electric washing machine to use Alva J. Fisher's prototype (patented in 1910): the drum was driven by an electric motor. In the earlier models, this motor was not waterproof, which often led to short circuits: the machine was potentially dangerous. In addition, the machine could not wring out any laundry.


Joe Barlow and John SeelingfoundedBarlow & Seeling Manufacturing, later Speed ​​Queen, today the global market leader in industrial laundry and laundromats and known for the amazing durability of its washing machines.


Barlow & Seeling Manufacturing greatly improved the electric washing machine, made it safer and more efficient, and then began selling its own models.


Speed ​​Queen introduced the first multidirectional wringer on the market.


Electric motors became waterproof and two-stage: slower for washing and faster for spinning. On the Paris fair the washing machine attracted a lot of interest.


The first machine with a built-in spin function was created. Electric washing machine sales quickly hit 913,000 in the United States.


The first washing machine appeared on the French market: this also had a built-in spin function.


The American who works for Bendix Aviation Corporation,John Chamberlain invented a multifunctional washing machine that could wash, rinse and spin in one go. A patent was filed for this model in the same year, which the first automatic washing machine corresponded.


Of the 25,000,000 households connected to the mains, 60% had an electric washing machine and most households also had an electric wringer.


In order to aid the war effort, Speed ​​Queen discontinued the production of professional washing machines. However, the United States allowed manufacturers to continue their research and development activities for machine automation.

The spread of the automatic washing machine

Automatic washing machines perform all washing operations without manual intervention:

  • A programming device starts the machine
  • A pressure switch and a solenoid valve cut off the water supply when the tank is full.
  • A thermostat controls the temperature
  • A timer controls the operating time.

But automatic washing machines, still a novelty in the early 1950s, were expensive and mostly only available in laundromats at first. Only a few households could afford the machines. During the 50s and 60s, laundromats spread to all major American and European cities.

The models kept improving, integrated centrifugal force to spin laundry and built in a preprogrammed wash cycle (one wash program for each wash, the wool program did not appear until 1997).

The 1960s

Various washing machine brands began to market your product. In 1967, 44% of French households had a washing machine. 10 years later it was already 74%.

The 1980s

From the 1980s onwards, all machines contained miniaturized, electronic components (Microprocessors, RAM etc.) and used less and less water and electricity to protect the environment.

Washing machines today

Nowadays offer washing machines Dozens of wash cycles and water levels that can be programmed before or during washing. Speed ​​Queen professional washing machines - for industrial laundries (hotels, hospitals, community residences, etc.) and laundromats - are at the forefront when it comes to performance.

These machines reduce the daily water and energy consumption and preserve the quality of the laundry, which is washed in record time thanks to G-Kraft.


Together with the refrigerator, the washing machine is the most common household appliance in households around the world. The history of the washing machine goes back to the primal dawn of human civilization when people tried to find the best way to wash their clothes. First in rivers and running water and then in increasingly sophisticated wash houses.

The washing machine fulfills a basic need for clean clothes and laundry. And it is the daily necessity, with the associated desire to make the washing process as simple and hygienic as possible, that started the impressive series of inventions and ultimately led to the machine we are familiar with today.

The first wash houses

Hand washing linen is a tedious and tiresome household chore. Washerwomen used to wash linen with a little soap on the edge of a stream or river or in a well or wash house. They rubbed the cloth against rocks or wooden slabs and added sand to remove stains and caked dirt. The lines were then wrung out and beaten dry with a wooden mallet.

In front of wash houses

The Romans, on the other hand, built public laundries (fullonicae in Latin, i.e. roller mills). They used fermented human urine to bleach linen with the high concentration of ammonia. The urine was poured into a tank and the walker (or walker) walked the clothes: the sheets and clothes were stepped on to clean them.

The emperor Vespasian is still famous today for imposing a tax on the collection of urine. When his son Titus complained about this, Vespasian kept the first income from these taxes under Titus' nose and asked if the money would smell bad. Titus answered the question in the negative and from this conversation the well-known saying Pecunia non olet developed: “Money doesn't stink”. Centuries later, the first public toilets were named after Vespasians.

Until 1909, human urine was still being collected for washing and spinning the wool of army bedclothes.

Among the occupations that arose during the 19th century, there were particularly large numbers of washers, washerwomen, pressers and even bleachers. These women were mostly employed in laundries or worked on their own account.

The role of the washhouses

Before washhouses or related professions and facilities became widespread, villagers in particular had to draw dirty water, which was a dangerous source of infection. So the proliferation of wash houses played an important role in public health and hygiene at a time when cholera, smallpox and typhoid were threatening the population.

State subsidies partially financed the construction of public washhouses and thus the basic principles of hygiene were revolutionized.

Washhouses spread and the work of laundresses was made much easier. The factories were considered a sign of wealth and so it was even possible to judge the prosperity level of a village by the number of public washhouses.

Washhouses also played an important role in society: women from all over the village met at least once a week (except for the very old women) and exchanged local news. The wash houses turned into "gossip houses" and it was not uncommon to hear women singing as a means of facilitating daily chores.

Washhouses gradually disappeared as running water became available in most households. The technology of the washerwomen nevertheless served as inspiration for the first prototypes.


We owe the invention of the washing machine to Jacob Christin Schäffer (1767). 30 years later, the American Nathaniel Briggs received the first patent for a washing machine. It was all about pouring hot water into a tank and turning a lever to wash the clothes and then wringing it out between two rollers. The tank was then drained via a tap.

The electric washing machine was invented 210 years later.

Modern washing machines

The first drum washing machines appeared in 1905. They were still hand operated, but the steel container allowed the device to be combined with a coal burner.

The first electric machines were built around 1920: only the rotating mechanism was electric. The rest of the controls were still manual.

The first automatic machines

The machines were not automated until 1930. Pressure switches, thermostats and timers have been built into the newer models. From the 1980s onwards, advances in electronics became apparent. The washing machines became more responsive and environmentally friendly:

  • Adjustment of parameters by sensors: water level, speed, spin
  • Weight detection
  • Different cycles: colors, white, wool, synthetic
  • Energy and water savings

Today's washing machines

Nowadays, washing machines are partially connected to the Internet and have WiFi so that they can remotely control the start of different wash cycles, for example after or before peak hours when electricity costs are cheaper. Thanks to electrolysis, which separates the positive and negative ions, some machines now work without detergent. Soon the first washing machines will be equipped with touch screens, following the example of the Speed ​​Queen models, the American market leader.


In the 50s and 60s, laundromats experienced a real boom when washing machines were still too expensive for most households. From the 1970s onwards, many households were able to finance their own machines: they now belong in every home. Many houses even have their own washroom.

Does that mean a decline in popular laundromats? No, most laundromats continue to be successful!

What's the secret behind today's laundromats?

Not every household has the space and the financial means for a washing machine. Laundromat users are mostly people who do not have a washing machine in their own home. In addition, there are people who have a machine but want to wash larger materials or fabrics that do not fit in a conventional machine: such as blankets and curtains.

Then there are still some who choose not to invest in their own washing machine. There are usually two reasons for this:

Save money: you can wash up to 18kg of clothes in a single load, compared to 5 to 7kg in a traditional machine.

Save time: your laundry is washed and dried in just one hour.

All of the above factors explain the success of laundromats, and the clientele is not all-student either. On the contrary: when you go to a laundromat, you will find people of all ages with all imaginable backgrounds.

Modern laundromats not only offer services such as washing and drying, it is also a meeting place that deals with the social aspect.

A new approach to laundromats

Just like the washhouses of yesteryear, laundries still play an important role in society as a meeting place. Laundry bars and laundry libraries are popular concepts and a growing appeal to the public. Concerts are now being organized to commemorate the singing washerwomen in the former washhouses.

This new concept is another reason for the spread of laundromats nationally and internationally.

Open a laundry room as a franchise

In France, franchising has a bigger economic footprint than any other European country. At the global level, the country even ranks third. Franchising offers the advantages of a proven commercial concept.

Laundromats are a very successful and popular concept for two reasons:

  • The customer base is varied and reliable for the reasons mentioned above
  • Franchising is a sensible and profitable investment *

* Of course, the location of the laundromat is crucial. Most customers visit the laundromat on foot and are local. So it is important to choose a busy street with plenty of other shops and services.

At a time when entrepreneurship is encouraged and everyone (or almost everyone) dreams of opening their own business, laundromats have earned a prominent place among successful small businesses and are on par with food trucks and concept stores.