1. Home
  2. Science
  3. Why The Washing Machine Was The Greatest Invention Of The Industrial Revolution

Why The Washing Machine Was The Greatest Invention Of The Industrial Revolution

Why The Washing Machine Was The Greatest Invention Of The Industrial Revolution

"I was only four years old when I saw my mother load a washing machine for the first time ever. That was a great day for my mother," Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, said in one of his many TED talks.

Unfortunately, about five billion people around the world still heat water and scrub their clothes by hand. And because of growing energy concerns, some (the few with washing machines) don't mind the inequality.

Rosling, however, believes washing machines foster education and democracy. He doesn't think the "haves" should tell the "have-nots" how to spend their days either.

To prove his point, Rosling split the world population into categories, as seen below.

Two billion people live below the poverty line - spending less than $2 a day. The richest one billion live above what Rosling calls the "air line," so named because they make enough for airplane travel. This group spends more than $80 a day.

With seven billion people on the planet, the remaining four billion live somewhere between these two distinctions.

Yes, they have electricity, but only one billion of them have washing machines, according to Rosling.

That means two billion people have access to washing machines. The remaining five billion wash their clothes (or often lget women to wash their clothes) like this:

San Pedro Sula washing clothes

REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

"It's hard time-consuming labor, which they have to do for hours every week ... How can we tell these women that they can't have a washing machine?" Rosling said.

This image shows energy consumption based on the economic distinctions Rosling made earlier. Each blue figure represents one billion people, while the black blocks shows an energy unit of fossil fuel, like oil, coal, or gas.

Rosling broke down the stats to imagine that the entire world uses 12 units. The richest one billion consume six - meaning one-seventh of the population uses half of the world's energy - while the poorest two billion consume only two units.

Now, this image shows how Rosling thinks (and hopes) industrialization will continue to change the globe:

Those above the "wash line" will hop the fence to the "air line," creating a chain reaction. Those formerly limited to just electricity will now own washing machines. And because of the population growth, the poorest group will double in size and transfer to the category with electricity, leaving no one living on less than $2 a day. With these these changes also comes an increase in energy consumption by 10 fossil fuel units, reaching 22 units total.

While this will present a problem, Rosling says the wealthy should worry about their own energy consumption because in the new paradigm, the wealthiest two billion people would consume more than 50% of global energy.

"Until they [the richest people] have the same energy consumption per person, they shouldn't give advice to others what to do and what not to do," Rosling said.

Rosling also referenced how the former minister of energy in Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, became the country's first female president.

"If you have democracy, people will vote for washing machines. They love them!" Rosling said.

Rosling's mother pointed out the final evidence of the washing machine's power. Since she didn't have to wash Rosling's family's clothes by hand, she had time to go to the library. She had time to read to Rosling His mother also borrowed books for herself. She learned English.

"Thank you, industrialization. Thank you, steel mill. And thank you, chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books," Rosling said.

And for the record, here's what he believes the rich should do to start leveling-off their energy consumption: reduce and implement green energy.

Watch Rosling's full talk here:


Popular Right Now