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The evolution of two everyday cleaning appliances


Cleaning today is far more convenient and less time-consuming than ever before. The time and energy savings of appliances like the washing machine and vacuum make running a modern household more manageable.


But all good things have to start somewhere. Hand-powered washing machines may seem laughable today, but they were cutting-edge technologies in the 18th century. These innovations have certainly come a long way since then.


Washing Machines

It may come as a surprise to some that washing machines were invented as early as 1691, when a patent was filed under the category of “Washing and Wringing Machines”.

19th Century washing machine
By Itub
Early washing machines were operated manually, with hand-powered washing drums topped with rollers to wring clothes.


These earliest devices were hand powered, with rotating tubs or drums to wash clothes in, and topped by rollers to wring the clothes. One such device was the Triumph Rotary Washer, which was exhibited at the Centennial International Exhibition in 1876.  While they certainly shaved some time off washing and wringing clothes by hand, it was still an energy-sapping process to operate these machines.


Fortunately, electric washing machines were not far off, with the first mentions in newspapers as early as 1904. The washing mechanisms were enclosed in a cabinet, and attention paid to electrical and mechanical safety. These early automatic washing machines would get their water from temporary slip-on connectors to sink taps.

The Electrolux Time Manager

Today, modern models like the Electrolux Time Manager washing machines come with not only automated washing with customizable wash times and temperatures, but intelligent assistance such as the Load Sensor.  It can weigh the laundry and recommend the right amount of detergent to use.


Vacuum Cleaners

Like the washing machine, the first vacuum cleaners were hand operated. They are direct descendants of the carpet sweeper, a box with a handle that housed a roller, brushes and a dirt container.


Early manual vacuums were invented in the 1860s, and created suction through a pumping action and bellows. Most required two people to operate. The Baby Daisy built around 1910 needed one person to stand on the base of the bellows, moving it back and forth with the aid of a broomstick in a holder, while the second person would use the attached hose to clean the house. The dust would be collected in a cotton bag in the machine.


The first practical electrical model was invented in 1907. Most were bulky stand up units that were not mobile. It was Electrolux founder Axel Wenner-Gren who conceived of the Model V, which could lie on the floor on two thin metal runners, making it highly portable.  It is now a standard feature on modern vacuum cleaners.


And they were durable, too. There is a recorded example of a 1930s Electrolux vacuum cleaner surviving in use for over 70 years, finally breaking in 2008. Today, many of Electrolux’s vacuums like the Ultra series are designed for easy handling and maneuverability, with multidirectional soft wheels that also protect your surfaces from scratches.

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