Image Thor 'Automagic' washing machine, 1940s-50s

TLF ID R6380

This is an automatic electric washing machine produced in the 1940s or 1950s by US manufacturer Thor, called the 'Automagic'. The machine has a rectangular, box-like shape with rounded edges, a white enamel coating and a green lid. It measures 95 cm x 62 cm x 62 cm.



Educational details

Educational value
  • The 'Automagic' was designed with a dual function, to wash both laundry and dishes, and consisted of an electric motor with two galvanised tubs, with the user switching functions by replacing the dishwashing tub with the laundry-washing tub and vice versa.
  • This machine was made under licence in Australia under the brand name Thor. In about 1909, Chicago engineer Alva J Fisher (1862-1947) patented a washing machine powered by a small electric motor and featuring a self-reversing gearbox that prevented clothes from being tangled. Nominated as one of the significant inventions of the century, a machine based on this design was marketed as the 'Thor' by the Hurley Machine Co of Chicago and was the forerunner of the modern washing machine.
  • This dual clothes- and dishwashing machine was an innovation in domestic appliance design. The earliest washing machine technology consisted of mechanisms that used agitation, suction or friction to clean clothes, and they were powered by hand, steam or electricity. The first British patent for a washing machine, under the category of 'Washing and Wringing Machines', was issued in 1691.
  • During the 1950s the electric dishwasher started to gain a domestic market as it became cheaper, smaller and more efficient. The first practical domestic dishwasher was patented by Josephine Cochrane in 1886. It was hand operated and found a limited commercial market.
  • The washing machine shown here would have been operated almost exclusively by women, as washing was regarded as 'women's work' during the 19th century and most of the 20th century. While these attitudes were challenged by the women's liberation movement of the 1970s, studies in the early 21st century have found that men still do not participate equally in household chores.
  • Although innovative and futuristic in design, this model was produced in a two-tone colour scheme with white as the main colour, as marketers wanted to be sure it would appeal to the intended market, the white enamel box form having become almost standard for domestic appliances by the 1940s.
  • This machine was designed to save household time and energy in a period of economic growth. With the end of the period of austerity that had been forced on households during the Second World War, Australia experienced a level of population growth in the 1950s that put a premium on the time available for women to carry out domestic chores such as washing.
  • The ingenious name 'Automagic' is an example of clever copywriting that was designed to sell the machine by creating the impression that it made washing effortless, an impression that did not match the reality. An advertisement from 1946 describes the machine as the 'unbelievable Thor Automagic Washer everyone is talking about', with 'magic' underlined. The original 'Thor' washing machine was named after the powerful Norse god of thunder, who is associated with power and force - the use of the terms 'magic' and 'Thor' suggest that the machine had the power to eliminate the hard work and drudgery of clothes washing.
Year level

F; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • history;
  • studies of society and environment
Strand
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding
Strand
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    Contributors
    • Content provider
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: Museum of Victoria
    • Address: Carlton VIC 3053 Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of Museum Victoria
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 04 Sep 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
    • Author
    • Organisation: Thor
    • Remarks: manufacturer
    • Author
    • Name: Benjamin Healley
    • Remarks: photographer
    Access profile
    • Colour independence
    • Device independence
    • Hearing independence
    Learning resource type
    • Image
    Browsers
    • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 9.0 (MS-Windows)
    • Firefox - minimum version: (MS-Windows)
    • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
    Operating systems
    • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
    • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
    Rights
    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum Victoria, 2016, except where indicated under Acknowledgements