Where technology brought us 

Alleman Development Office
1103 40 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

American Bank of Rock Island
3730 18 Ave
Rock Island, IL 61201

The Bar and Stool Shoppe
842 18 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Hodgson Funeral Home
608 20 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

Hughes Tire & Battery
120 E 1 Ave
Milan, IL 61264

IH Missiissippi Valley Credit Union
4206 5th Ave
Rock Island, IL 61201

Illini Hospital
801 Hospital Rd
Silvis, IL 61282

Jerry's Market
1609 17 St
Moline, IL 61265

L & W Bedding
1211 16 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Southeast National Bank
3535 23rd Ave
Moline, IL 61265

State Bank of Orion
1114 4th St
Orion, IL 61273

3900 26 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

United Way of the Quad Cities Area
3247 E 35 St Ct
Davenport, IA 52807

Davenport home of washers

By Leon Lagerstam, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Chuck Thomas / staff
John C. Voss sits next to a washing machine which was manufactured in the late-1800s by his family's company in Davenport. Voss believes this prototype to be the first ever washing machine made. He now uses it as a table.

DAVENPORT -- Watching his mother spend days washing clothes on a scrub board made a young German immigrant to the Quad-Cities want to do something to make her life easier in the late 1800s.

William Voss, inventor of the first washing machine, became known as Davenport's ``Great Emancipator'' because he freed women from the wash board, according to materials belonging to family member John C. Voss of Davenport.

For a while, Davenport even became known as the washing machine capital of the world, John Voss said. Three washing-machine manufacturers popped up within blocks of one another, ``but the Voss machine was the first one ever built, as far as we know,'' he said.

Brammer and White Lily were the closest competitors, he said.

The original Voss invention used an iron pipe attached to a wooden tub to make clothes rub against a corrugated surface. Later machines were hand-operated by a crank or fly wheel. Some had foot pedals to provide agitating action.

Small, crude motors started running the machines in 1905, he said.

Wash tubs typically were made from cypress wood, which never leaked or wore out if kept moist, Mr. Voss said. Porcelain and enamel tubs were introduced in the late 1920s.

``When the porcelain ones first came out, they were smooth,'' Mr. Voss said. ``We felt if the surface could be corrugated, it would give more rough surfaces to better clean clothes. They told us it couldn't be done, but we did it, and everyone who used corrugated tubs later had to pay us for the patent rights.''

Another Voss invention was a safety device attached to the wringers. The device released the rollers and shut off the electric current from the motor, he said.

Fully automatic washers didn't surface until after World War II and after Voss Manufacturing Co. was bought out by Oscar Mayer. No one really became concerned about making automatic dryers until after the 1950s, Mr. Voss said.

The Voss brothers once considered making dryers but had no manufacturing space and chose not to, he said.

``At one point, there were 87 different washing machines being built across the country,'' Mr. Voss said. ``At one time, you couldn't buy them for under $100, but we made one during the Great Depression that sold for $39.50, and people bought them and bought them, and we worked 24 hours a day to make them. Some of our best years were during the Great Depression.''

Voss machines were sold worldwide, including a standing order for 100 machines delivered weekly to South Africa until Voss officials were told to stop.

He doesn't know what his ancestors would say about today's modern appliances, such as his Whirlpool washer and dryer.

``I think they clean clothes just as well,'' Mr. Voss said. ``The refinements made to the electrical systems don't really do much more.''

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.