laun·dry (noun): clothes and linens that need to be washed or that have been newly washed. Also known as an incredibly boring chore. Right? Chances are you’ve probably never thought much about the history of laundry (which is reasonable, most people haven’t) so you might be surprised to learn that it’s an interesting (& semi-gross) one. Here are a few fun facts about laundry history you should definitely know.
1. Ever wondered how pirates did laundry? (Or any early sea voyagers?) Turns out they were pretty resourceful - they threw their clothing into a tethered bag, then tossed it over the side of the ship so it would drag behind while they sailed. While not up to our modern standards of cleanliness, when you’re stuck on a pirate ship for months at a time, it’s a good way to go about things!
2. It’s kind of hard to do laundry in space. (Well, impossible actually considering there are no washing machines…) That’s why astronauts burn their dirty undies in the atmosphere by putting a whole bunch at a time on supply crafts. They’ve also experimented with growing plants with them.
3. During the Revolutionary War, clotheslines were used as spy signals. (So cool!) People loyal to George Washington formed a group called the Culper Spy Ring. They’d tip off other members about intel, etc. by arranging clotheslines in such a way as to communicate via code.
4. Bounce were the first dryer sheets & they hit the market in 1975.
5. Laundry detergent came about in 1916 in Germany as a result of a soap shortage during WWI, but it wouldn’t be available on the market till the 1930s.
6. The Middle Ages were hardcore, man. (And so unsanitary.) Before the 1800s, not only did people wear clothes for at least a week before cleaning, but they cleaned their clothing by soaking them in a lye mixture that included ashes and urine.
7. The washing machine was invented in 1782 in Great Britain by a guy named H. Sidgier.
8. The first mass-marketed washing machine came out in 1908 and was produced by The Hurley Machine Company. It was called the Thor.
9. An electric washing machine in the 1920s cost approximately $81. That’s about $1035 today!
10. The first dryer was created in the early 1800s by Pochon in France (it was a hand-crank). Electric dryers were patented in 1936 but manual wringers were still the main kind of dryer used in homes all the way through WWII.
11. Most people have dryers these days but that didn’t become the case until the 1960s. Why? Because in the 1950s the cost of a dryer was the equivalent of $1600 in today’s money. (Yikes!)
Laundry may be a boring chore but it’s history is anything but dull. Keep that in mind next time you get stuck doing a few loads of laundry. (Plus, impress friends at your next trivia night with your new knowledge!) There’s more to learn about the history of laundry too, so check it out.
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