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Image Wolter and Echberg washing machine, late 1800s

TLF ID R6386

This is a late-19th-century compressed-air washing machine, made by Victorian manufacturers Wolter and Echberg. The machine is made of galvanised steel and has a distinctive rocket-like appearance, with a central drum, in which the clothes are washed, consisting of two cone shapes on either end of a cylinder. On the drum are two welded handles and a manual lever. The drum is attached to a four-legged iron frame from which it pivots, so that it can be rocked from side to side and turned in a full circle.



Educational details

Educational value
  • This is an early example of a mechanical object designed to minimise the drudgery of washing clothes. The first machines to aid washing had mechanisms that worked through agitation, suction or friction, and the first British patent for a washing machine, under the category of 'Washing and Wringing Machines', was issued in 1691.
  • The user operated this washing machine by placing the dirty clothes, soap and water inside the machine, sealing the lid to make it watertight and then rocking the machine from side to side to agitate the dirty clothes against the corrugations inside the drum, thereby creating suds and removing the dirt. Presumably the user would then have needed to empty the drum of soapy water, refill it with rinse water and agitate it again to remove the soap residue.
  • This machine was produced by Hans Echberg and Friedrich Wolter of Russell Street in Melbourne, who applied for a patent in 1875 for 'improvements in clothes-washing machines', the basis of their application being the addition of the corrugated semicircular lining inside the tub. As similar inventions had already been patented, their patent was partially granted and applied only to the corrugated lining.
  • Washing was an arduous, time-consuming task and during the late 1800s women generally dedicated a day per week solely to washing. They would light a wooden fire under a large copper barrel called a 'copper' and scrub the washing by hand on a wooden scrubbing board before boiling it in the copper and hanging it out to dry.
  • At the time this machine was made, washing machines would have been operated almost exclusively by women, reflecting the gender roles and expectations of women in the late 19th century. Women at the time only comprised about 20 per cent of the paid workforce, and most of these women were employed in domestic labour. Men comprised the majority of the paid workforce and were generally not expected to participate in household chores.
  • This innovation in domestic technology saved time and effort for those who could afford it but unlike the situation in factories, where expensive machines that minimised production time and saved on labour costs achieved cost savings, domestic work for the family was unpaid and investment in domestic machines did not achieve financial savings.
  • This machine was an improvement on earlier attempts to make an affordable and efficient domestic machine that would save the user's time. Before 1900 most washing machines were powered by hand, with some attempts being made to use available technologies such as water or steam power. However, the invention of the first electric washing machine, patented in 1910, was the true turning point in washing machine design, leading to washing machines becoming real labour-saving devices.
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: Wolter and Echberg
    • 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