This Day in History (28-Mar-1797) – Nathaniel Briggs of NH patents a washing machine

Before 1800 not many people had seen a washing machine, let alone used one. For another century after that they were not found in many homes, even in developed countries where the industrial revolution was well under way. Some of the earliest went to institutions as well as private houses. A 1790s British washing machine ad targeted “the guardians of all charitable foundations, the governors of all public hospitals, and the commanders of ships and vessels appointed to long voyages”. The first English patent under the category of Washing and Wringing Machines was issued in 1691. Jacob Christian Schäffer’s washing machine design was published 1767 in Germany. In 1782, Henry Sidgier issued a British patent for a rotating drum washer.

In 1787 an energetic washing machine publicist came on the scene. Edward Beetham, ex-actor, writer, bookseller etc., hooked up with Thomas Todd, who had just been granted a patent for a “machine for the washing and ironing of linen, woollen and cotton stuffs, silks, carpets, and every other woven or knit fabric”. Beetham’s PR campaign for machines sold by “Messrs. Todd, Beetham and Co.”, and later for his own, got his products more attention than any other existing English washing machines. Beetham advertised in The Times for October 10th that they had “brought to perfection”: A machine for washing linen which will, in an equal space of time, wash as much linen as six or eight of the ablest washerwomen, without the use of lees [lye], and with only one third of the fire and soap. In the 1790s Edward Beetham sold numerous “patent washing mills” in England.

The first United States Patent titled “Clothes Washing” was granted to Nathaniel Briggs of New Hampshire in 1797. This was known as the Box Mangler. It consisted of a heavy frame containing a large box filled with rocks, resting on a series of long wooden rollers. Washing was laid flat on a sheet and wound round one of the rollers. Two people pulled on levers to move the heavy box back and forth over the rollers. It was large and expensive and required heavy labor to operate.



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