Special Report

The Most Useful Appliances Invented in the Last 100 Years

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The vacuum cleaner

Can you even imagine how you would clean a carpet or a rug if you could not use a vacuum cleaner? The very first device used to clean the floor goes back to the turn of the 16th century, but the first motorized vacuum cleaner was patented in 1901. It looked like a horse-drawn cart and was very impractical.

In 1907, James Spangler, a janitor in Ohio who had asthma, invented an electric suction-sweeper, which became the first portable domestic vacuum cleaner. It used an electric fan to create suction, rotating brushes to collect dirt, a pillowcase for a filter, and a broomstick for a handle.

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Electric iron

Many people prefer to just get their clothes dry cleaned. Who has an entire afternoon to iron and fold clothes, right?

But until this option was so widely available, the lightweight electric iron made people’s lives easier. It was invented by Earl H. Richardson in 1905. Heat was concentrated at the forward point of the soleplate — the so-called hot point, which everyone loved. The hot point iron was the first commercially successful electric laundry iron.

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Home refrigerator

Various methods for keeping food cold so it can last longer have been around for centuries. But the first fridge for home and domestic use was invented in 1913 by Fred W. Wolf.

The appliance was a small unit sitting on top of an ice box. But it required external plumbing connections. In 1916, Alfred Mellowes worked on a fridge with a compressor at the bottom. More efficient refrigerators started to be mass-produced in the 1970s.

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Electric dishwasher

How many important tasks can you finish during the time you’d normally spend doing the dishes? Hand-powered dishwashers had been around for more than 40 years before the first electric dishwasher became widely available for sale in 1930. It was invented by the Walker Brothers Company in Philadelphia in 1913.

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Washing machine

People have been looking for easier and faster ways to wash clothes for centuries. Early versions of washing machines date back to the late 1700s. But the first automatic washing machine was invented in the 1930s by Alva J. Fisher. Around the same time, John W. Chamberlain invented a machine that could do it all — wash, rinse, and extract water from clothes without people’s intervention. The first top-loading and also automatic washing machine became widely available in 1947.

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Taking clothes out on the balcony or yard to hang them on a clothesline so they could dry naturally was the way to go. But it was a real nightmare when you had to do this in the winter. J. Ross Moore invented the first electric dryer in 1935. He built an oil-heated drum and put it in a shed where his clothes would be placed until they dried. Hamilton Manufacturing Company started manufacturing gas and electric dryers in 1938.