Chronology of a revolutionary invention, from its creation to the present day

Until the 18th century, washing was done at the municipal washhouse with the help of a beater and a brush, a little soap and some ashes. In many cases, you had to go to the next village to wash laundry occasionally. Washing was a challenging task and a luxury. But this would change thanks to the initiative of a few outstanding inventors and entrepreneurs. A look back at the incredible journey of an appliance which is now part of our daily lives. 


Mechanical washing machines 


histoire machine à laver

Jacob Christian Schäffer

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

Holder of  degrees in philosophy and theology, member of many learned societies, including the Academy of Science in Paris, Jacob Christian Schäffer prepared a botany manual for pharmacists and physicians, designed a new ornithological classification methods and carried out important work in mycology, and entomology as well as experiments involving optics and electricity. In 1786, Goethe personally visited this great scholar’s curiosity cabinet.


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


The very first mechanical washing machines appeared in England.


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


James King filed a patent for the first drum machine. This model, however, was still mechanical and the engine was activated with a crank. All the same, physical exertion was reduced.


A machine by James King, included a wringer, thereby facilitating washing.


Frenchman François Proust created a prototype, more hygienic, double boiler: the steam sterilized the linen. But not all materials could stand such treatment.


French manufacturer Flandria launched the “Barboteuse. Thanks to these manual washing machines, household linen could be washed at home, in much more comfortable conditions than were available in the laundries.

First, the laundry had to be boiled in a washing machine. The laundry was often pre-treated using wood ash (naturally rich in potash, they acted as detergent and disguised odors). The laundry was then put in the machine, then the wheel was turned: the back-and-forth movement churned the laundry in both directions, then the dirty water was drained away via a lip in the gutter


Electric washing machines


An American engineer, Alva John Fisher, is generally considered to be the inventor of the first electric machine. But at least one patent was filed before his, for a model electric machine. However, the identity of the inventor remains unknown to this day. Wooden tanks were replaced by metal ones.


The Hurley Electric Laundry Equipment Company launched “Thor”, the first electric washing machine to go on the market using the Alva J. Fisher prototype (patented in 1910): the drum was powered by an electric motor. On the early models, this engine was not watertight and short-circuits occurred frequently: the machine was therefore potentially dangerous. In addition, the machine did not wring out the linen.


Joe Barlow and John Seeling founded Barlow & Seeling Manufacturing, later Speed Queen, today world leader in industrial laundry and laundromats, recognized for the amazing durability of its professional washing machines.

1911machine à laver histoire

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


Speed Queen introduced on the market the first multidirectional wringer.


Electric motors became waterproof and two-speed: slow for washing, faster for spinning. Put on show at the Paris Fair, this washing machine excited strong interest.


The first machine with spin function incorporated was born. Sales of electric washing machines soon reached 913000 units in the United States.


The first washing machines went on the French market: they had the spin function incorporated.


Working for the Bendix Aviation Corporation, American John Chamberlain invented a multifunctional machine which could wash, rinse and spin in a single cycle. A patent was filed the same year for this model, which is considered the first automatic washing machine.


Of the 25000 000 US homes connected to the electricity grid, 60% had an electric washing machine and most of these households also had an electric wringer.

1941évolution de la machine à laver

To support the war effort, Speed Queen interrupted production of professional washing machines. The USA did, however, allow manufacturers to continue their research and development activities on machine automation.


The spread of the automatic washing machine

Automatic washing machines perform all washing operations without any manual intervention:

  • A programmer starts up the machine
  • A pressure switch and a solenoid valve cut off the water supply when the tank has filled up.
  • A thermostat controls the temperature
  • A timer controls the operating time.

But automatic washing machines, still an innovation in the early 50s, were expensive and, to begin with, were mostly restricted to laundromats. Very few households were able to afford them. Laundromats grew in number across all major US and European cities during the 50s and 60s.

Models continued to improve, integrating centrifugal force to wring the laundry and incorporating programed washing cycles (a washing program for each type of laundry; the wool cycle only arrived in 1997).

The 1960smachine-a-laver-laverie-automatique

Different brands of washing machine began advertising their products. In 1967, 44% of French households had a washing machine. 10 years later, 74% of French households had one.

The 1980s

From the 80s onwards, machines contained miniaturized, electronic components (microprocessors, RAM …) and consumed less and less water and electricity, in an attempt to conserve the environment.

Washing machines today

Nowadays washing machines offer dozens of wash cycles and water levels, programmable before or during washing. Speed Queen professional washing machines – for industrial laundries (hotels, hospitals, communal residences …) and laundromats – are at the forefront in terms of performance.

These machines reduce daily consumption of water and energy, preserve the qualities of the laundry which they wash in record time thanks to G force spin speed.



Speed Queen

As a manufacturer of commercial laundry equipment for more than 100 years, Speed ​​Queen is now the world's No. 1 in self service laundromats.

Alliance Laundry

Alliance Laundry Systems LLC
PO Box 990 - Shepard Street
Ripon WI 54971 - USA