'Torpedo' Washing Machine

Ordinary objects can sometimes turn out to be extraordinary. This can be because of the stories that accompany the object, or perhaps because of the object’s rarity or value. This is certainly the case for many of the North Otago Museum’s everyday objects! In the 1870s Melbourne manufacturers Wolter, Echberg & Co launched a patent for an unusual torpedo-like washing machine. It was called a ‘Compressed Air’ machine but would still have required a lot of hard manual work. Dirty clothes were placed inside the machine, along with soap and washing soda (sodium carbonate) and water. Five minutes of rocking inside the inner ‘compressed air’ chamber was said to complete the wash. It was probably better than using a washing board but the machine still had to be filled with water twice using a bucket and excess water in the washing rung out by hand. The 1870s in Oamaru was the great age of rail building, with work on the main line from Christchurch to Dunedin beginning in 1873. Water itself was also likely to have been used to help with the drudgery of washing. Water powered washing machines were certainly available in Europe. However, it wouldn’t be until the late 1920s and the widespread availability of electricity, that a difference was really felt.

NOM 85/15

Morgan Bennet