This piece of domestic technology is a manually operated washing machine marketed as the "Compressed Air" model and made in Melbourne by Echberg, Wolter & Co. in about 1879. Dirty clothes, soaked in hot water, soap and washing soda (sodium carbonate), were placed in the "torpedo-shaped" tub, which pivoted on a stand. The lid was sealed and by rocking the tub for about five minutes the washing was said to have been completed.
This Australian designed and made washing machine is certainly an unusual one for the time. The usual types available were mostly imported from England and the USA, comprised a wooden box or tub with internal corrugations, and agitated the clothes by turning or beating them with internal paddles.
Throughout the 1800s and into the first half of the 1900s washing clothes was a laborious and time consuming weekly chore which took a full day to complete, usually on a Monday. This machine was certainly an improvement on the hard work of scrubbing clothes against a washboard in a tub but it still required a considerable amount of labour. This was to fill and empty the machine twice by hand, to wash, squeeze out and then rinse and remove the heavy wet washing, wring it out again and then hang it on the line.
In an effort to produce an effective washing machine that imitated hand washing, by the 1870s some 2,000 patents had been issued in the USA alone. As well as the machines themselves, there were also many wringers and mangles to squeeze out the washing water, not to mention boilers and coppers. 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 eventually becoming real labour-saving devices. However, most women in Australia had to wait until the 1950s or 60s for their first electric washing machine, when there was greater prosperity and the ready availability of electricity, to release them from laundry drudgery.
Curator, Science Technology & Industry
The Sydney International Exhibition' in Australian Town and Country Journal, 5 October 1879 p.7.
Troy, Patrick Nicol, "A History of European Housing in Australia", Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 100-102.