As long as people have been wearing clothes, they've had to come up with ways to clean them. If you lived a couple of thousand years ago, you'd be beating your clothes on a stone to get the stains out like the Romans did. They had special stone troughs for washing and used rendered animal fat as a crude form of soap. Fast forward a few hundred years, and the stone troughs were replaced with wooden boards for scrubbing. But the process was still slow and backbreaking, and the results were probably less than stellar.
Things started to get interesting when agitators were developed. These paddles or dollies were suspended in a tub of water with the dirty clothes and then turned backward and forward manually. They still required muscle, but the process was similar in concept to the way we clean clothes today, agitating the water to release dirt from cloth fibers. In 1908, Alva J. Fisher introduced the modern washing machine. It was called the Thor, and it was the first washing machine with an electric motor [source: Castleden].
Modern washing machines use a two-drum system to clean clothes. The inner drum holds the clothes near the agitator, while the outer drum holds the water in the machine. When the washing cycle is complete, the inner drum spins, draining the water via hundreds of holes. In fact, during the final spin, a washing machine's inner drum can rotate at speeds approaching 80 mph (130 km/h) [source: Woodford].
Now that you don't have to spend two hours a day scrubbing dirty clothes, straining your back and ruining your manicure, you can chat with your friends and family on the telephone, the next appliance we can't live without.