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History of Home Appliances: Inventors, Inventions, and Advancements

August 20th, 2012

History of Home Appliances

It would seem that in a fast-paced world, home appliances are what keep our lives running smoothly. A cold fridge, a sturdy washing machine, and a glitch-free dishwasher can oftentimes be what separate us from daily disaster. Can you imagine your kitchen sans fridge? Hundreds of years ago, people would have to travel up the mountains to haul down ice and snow, which they would then pack into a ditch in the earth along with their perishable foods. Seems like a lot of work just to ensure tonight’s dinner is fresh!

Labor-intensive ice-harvesting for refrigeration purposes circa 1900

Labor-intensive ice-harvesting for refrigeration purposes circa 1900


Today we benefit from the technologies of modern appliances. We give little thought to these devices which, for the most part, function automatically and require little to no labor on our part. (And if you consider loading the dishwasher “labor,” well, just remember that a few decades ago you’d have to crouch over your sink scrubbing plates and utensils until your back was sore.)

But where do some of these amazing machines come from? Let’s take a peek at the history of home appliances!

Home Appliance Inventions


While many home and kitchen appliances are considered a “luxury” item, intended to relieve us the labors involved with cleaning dishes, washing laundry, and time spent cooking food, the refrigerator may very well be one of the most important appliances in your home. Everyone knows that a faulty fridge can lead to loads of expensive, spoiled food! The first refrigeration system was demonstrated by Professor William Cullen at the University of Glasgow in 1748. Throughout the next two centuries, the concept and technology was tinkered with and improved upon by many inventors and scientists.

1927 GE Motor Top refrigerator model

GE Motor Top refrigerator model circa 1927


In 1914, Fred W. Wolf invented an ice box-mounted refrigerator that was sold for domestic and commercial use. In 1923, the Frigidaire company began to mass-produce refrigerators for public use.  In 1927, General Electric introduced the “Motor Top” model that quickly saw widespread use in homes throughout the nation. The 20’s also saw the introduction of the refrigerant chemical Freon. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, new technologies were utilized by refrigerator machines, including defrosting and automatic ice-making. The fridge as we know it today was perfected both stylistically and technologically throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, with focus on eco-friendly initiatives and efficiency.


The invention of the modern dishwasher is also an important highlight in the history of home appliances. The dishwasher is one of the more “luxury” home appliances, intended to save time and labor in the kitchen spent hand-washing dirty dishware. The first mechanical device was invented in 1850 by Joel Houghton, and was cranked by hand (quite slowly) in order to spray water onto dishes.

Inventor Josephine Cochrane with her dishwasher machine

Inventor Josephine Cochrane with her dishwasher machine circa 1887


An advanced hand-powered dishwashing device was invented by wealthy heiress Josephine Cochrane in 1887. She showed her invention at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and soon went into commercial production. Her company was much later acquired by KitchenAid and Whirlpool, respectively. In the 1920’s, dishwashing models arrived with permanent home plumbing, with electric drying later in 1940. While the dishwasher was used primarily for commercial use up until the 1970’s, the past few decades have shown a great increase in the number of homes using modern domestic dishwashing appliances. Today, over 60% of American homes have a dishwasher installed in the kitchen.

Washing Machine:

For hundreds of years, laundering would mean hours of scrubbing, beating, rinsing, twisting, and hanging up clothes to dry. Today, a load of family laundry can be washed (and dried) within an hour! The invention of the washing machine saw a slow start in 1797 with the invention of the wooden scrub board. Throughout the following century, gasoline engines were used to power commercial washing machines. Hand-cranked wringers were used to wring the excess water out of the soaked linens after washing in the device.

Ava J. Fisher is credited for inventing the electric washing machine as we know it today (though there was actually a patent registered in the US prior to Fisher, the registrant of which is still unknown to this day). Through the 10’s, 20’s and 30’s, washing machine technology improved drastically and laundromats began to spring up around the US. In 1937, the Bendix Corporation introduced the first automatic washing machine.

Early washing machine with top manual wringer

Early washing machine with top manual wringer


Through the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, washing machine technology improved with more electrical components and wash cycles. In the 90’s, manufacturers began to mold these devices into the stylish modern washing machines that we are familiar with today, with microcontrollers, computer systems, and eco-friendly, high efficiency options.

Appliances Today

While it might seem to most of us that we have had the aid of these incredible machines for as long as we can remember, it’s important to know about the history of home appliances in order to appreciate the conveniences we have today in our own homes. In the scheme of things, we have only really had these appliances for a short time, and in that short time we have been saved hours upon hours of labor, stress, and time spent washing, cooking, and preserving. Years ago, before these appliances existed, everything was done over time, by hand.

But today the pace is much quicker, so it’s important to ensure we treat our appliances carefully, giving proper maintenance when due to ensure a long lifespan for our machines. If your fridge, dishwasher, washing machine, or any other appliance starts to break down or malfunction, make sure you immediately call for appliance repair – a phone call is much quicker and easier than hauling ice down a mountain, after all!