Nikola Tesla My great grandmother was born on September 30, 1895 in Strum, Wisconsin, and used to tell us the most important invention for the home, in her lifetime, was the clothes washing machine. Now history always seems to make the present era seem more civilized, when in fact, it is probably only cleaner, thanks to my grandmother’s favorite invention. But, I wonder if it is easier. Certainly, there were many patents issued in the 1880’s for inventions that truly would change the lives of future generations, and a handful of these amazing contrivances would have a great impact on that which is truly important to an industrialized nation: the machinery that speeds business, business being the true backbone of a country, but to a country girl whose family depended on farming, the clothes washing machine still stands out as the one that saved her the most time. So this essay will delve into the era of the 1880’s and focus on one of the most important inventors that ever lived, Nikola Tesla. Many business machines were patented before Nikola Tesla patented the alternating-current electromagnetic motor in 1888 (while the popular Thomas Edison was stubbornly clinging to direct-current motors), but soon more and more inventors were realizing this new source of harnessed power could bring glorious miracles to business, thus providing them with even more glorious profits.
But first, the washing machine, truly in honor of my great grandmother, who will be 105 years old this year. Before the days of washing machines, people got dirt out of their clothes by pounding them on rocks and washing the dirt away in streams. Sand was used as an abrasive to free the dirt. Soap was discovered at Rome’s Sapo Hill where ashes containing the fat of sacrificial animals were found to have good cleaning powers. The earliest washing machine – the scrub board – was invented in 1797.
In 1874 William Blackstone, a Bluffton, Indiana merchant and manufacturer of corn planters, built a birthday present for his wife. It was a machine that removed and washed away dirt from clothes. It consisted of a wooden tub in which there was a flat piece of wood containing six small wooden pegs. The inner mechanism looked something like a small milking stool. It was moved back and forth by means of a handle and an arrangement of gears. Dirty clothes were snagged on the wooden pegs and swished about in hot soapy water.
Mr. Blackstone began to build and sell his washers for $2.50 each. Five years later he moved his company to Jamestown, New York where it is located today and where it still produces washing machines. Competitors moved in quickly – there have been more than 200 washing machine manufacturers in the U.S. in the past century. Competition has kept keep prices down.
Many early washing machines cost less than $10. A wringer, invented in 1861, was added to the washer. Metal tubs replaced wooden types around 1900. Drive belts made possible use of steam or gasoline engines in the early 1900s and electric motor power for the first time in 1906. A rotary handle and a flywheel underneath operated Maytag’s first washer, built in 1907.
In 1875 there had been more than 2,000 patents issued for various washing devices. Not every idea worked, of course. One company built a machine designed to wash only one item at a time. What may have been the first laundromat was opened in 1851 by a gold miner and a carpenter in California. 10 donkeys powered their 12-shirt machine.
Earliest washers were hand powered by means of a wheel, pump handle, or similar device. One was driven by twisted ropes that powered the washer by unwinding somewhat like the use of a rubber band to power model airplanes. One washer contained rollers that were pushed back and forth by hand to squeeze out dirt. Several featured stomping devices and one – called a Loca-motive was moved rapidly back and forth on a track washing the clothes by slamming them against the walls of the tub. Now, a little about that inventor, Nikola Tesla: NikolaTesla was born in Smijlan, Croatia in 1856.
He had an extraordinary memory and spoke six languages. He spent four years at the Polytechnic Institute at Gratz studying math, physics, and mechanics. What made Tesla great, however, was his amazing understanding of electricity. Remember that this was a time when electricity was still in its infancy. The light bulb hadn’t even been invented yet.
When Tesla first came to the United States in 1884, he worked for Thomas Edison. Edison had just patented the light bulb, so he needed a system to distribute electricity. Edison had all sorts of problems with his DC system of electricity. He promised Tesla big bucks in bonuses if he could get the bugs out of the system. Tesla ended up saving Edison over $100,000 (millions of dollars by today’s standards), but Edison refused to live up to his end of the bargain.
Tesla quit and Edison spent the rest of his life trying to squash Tesla’s genius (and the main reason Tesla is unknown today). Tesla devised a better system for electrical transmission, alternating current, or AC. AC offered great advantages over the DC system. By using Tesla’s newly developed transformers, AC voltages could be stepped up and transmitted over long distances through thin wires. DC could not (requiring a large power plant every square mile while transmitting through very thick cables).
Of course, a system of transmission would be incomplete without devices to run on them. So, he invented the motors. This was no simple achievement – scientists of the late 1800’s were convinced that no motor could be devised for an alternating current system, making the use of AC a waste of time. After all, if the current reverses direction 60 times a second, the motor will rock back and forth and never get anywhere. If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.” I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.” – Nikola Tesla Tesla solved this problem easily and proved everyone wrong. He was using fluorescent bulbs in his lab some forty years before industry invented them.
At World’s Fairs and similar exhibitions, he took glass tubes and molded the …