March 27, 2017 10:17 AM
Today I learned that the washing machine is more than 250 years old.
After reading the lead article in this morning's Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, I briefly thought it was exactly 250 years old. This purported Feb. 23 anniversary is being celebrated all over the German news media this week, but it can't be right, given that there's a full copy online of the book in which German pastor and professor Jacob Christian Schaeffer made his invention known, and it's dated Oct. 16, 1766.
Not only that, but Schaeffer also writes in the book's foreword that he got the idea from a magazine article about an English washing machine that some guy in Copenhagen had successfully reconstructed.
It was only with the invention of the electric washing machine by Alva Fisher in Chicago in 1907 that something dramatically better than the washboard came along, and even then it took decades more for the machines to become cheap and reliable enough to change how people cleaned their clothes (and of course in much of the world, washboards still rule). In the U.S., according to a 2013 paper by Benjamin Bridgman of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the big gains in household productivity enabled by the washing machine, dishwasher and other such devices occurred between about 1948 and 1977.