The chore of doing laundry has plagued households since recorded history. American ingenuity was brought to bear on the problem on October 26, 1858, when Hamilton Smith patented a washing machine. But it was hand-driven and proved to be hard on both the operator and clothes. People continued to use the tub and washboard, even after the first electric washer came along in 1908. A few years later, the agitator-type machine appeared and gained immediate popularity. But people still had to feed clothes through a ringer by hand -- an often dangerous job. Finally, in the late 1930s, the fully automatic washer went on sale. Today, close to eight-out-of-10 homes across the country have a washing machine.
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