25 Greatest Inventions of the 20th Century: The electric washing machine

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. burden / ˈbɜr dn / (n.) – something or someone that causes a lot of worry, difficulty, or heavy work   

    The increasing price of goods is such a huge burden.

  2. fall on (someone) / fɔl ɒn / (phrasal v.) – to be the responsibility of someone

    My parents often came home late from work, so cooking dinner usually fell on my older sister.

  3. wring / rɪŋ / (v.) – to twist and squeeze out water from something, such as cloth, hair, etc.

    I wring my clothes before I dry them out in the sun.

  4. flaw / flɔ / (n.) – a problem, mistake, or weakness that causes something to not be perfect

    Everyone has flaws. No one’s perfect!

  5. catch on / kætʃ ɒn / (phrasal v.) – to become popular among people

    The new mobile game caught on fast. It was just released last week, but it’s already been downloaded by millions of people.


Read the text below.

In the bad old days, washing clothes was a chore that took up the whole day, involving buckets and buckets of water and back-breaking scrubbing on hard washboards. The strong soaps people used also damaged the skin.

The burden of the chore fell on women. They often had to spend a whole day doing the laundry.

Inventors made machines to make laundry day easier, but there were problems with many of them — until the Thor washing machine changed everything.

The Thor was the first home washer to run on electricity. It had a metal drum to put dirty clothes in, but you didn’t need to turn the drum yourself. The Hurley Electric Laundry Equipment Co. put the Thor on the U.S. market in 1907. It was an instant hit.

However, water sometimes leaked out of the drum, making the machine dangerous. And after a wash, you still had to wring the clothes dry by hand.

Other companies competed to fix the Thor’s design flaws, and washing machines improved steadily over the years. In the 1920s, washers with waterproof motors appeared. In the 1950s, machines in the U.S. had a spin cycle to shake off water and leave clothes much less wet.

The makers of the Thor tried to appeal to housewives’ wallets with another machine in the 1940s: The Thor Automagic Washer let you clean clothes and dishes in the same machine. Oddly enough, it never caught on.

Today, doing the laundry is still a chore but, happily, it doesn’t have to take up your whole day. (T)

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Water sometimes leaked out of the drum, making the Thor washing machine dangerous. Do you think the danger was worth not having to wash clothes by hand? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Other companies competed to fix the Thor’s design flaws. In your opinion, do modern appliances (ex. washing machines, toasters) have any major design flaws? Why or why not? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • In the 1940s, the Thor Automagic Washer let you clean clothes and dishes in the same machine, but it never caught on. Why do you think this machine wasn’t popular? Would you consider buying one? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • What should companies do with products that never catch on (ex. improve them, stop making them)? Why? Discuss.