Washing Machine (Technical objects)
Having heard that my project was based on the Baths, Sam asked whether I would like to work with her on a project with washing machines. Sam’s idea is to try and use the process of taking apart a washing machine to inspire projects for learning for learning.
The LGB, at the time of its opening, had within it, some of the most cutting-edge technology for washing and drying clothes on an industrial scale:
The public wash-house which has connected with it an ironing room, contains 23 separate cubicles, 30 drying horses – in which by hot air circulates clothes will be dried in from 12 to 15 minutes – and steam-driven centrifugal ringers. The establishment (towel) laundry has 12 separate drying horses, steam driven ringers, washers, and mangles. In the boiler house are three Lancashire boilers, each 21ft by 8ft., providing the motive power for driving the well, the electric and laundry engines, and for supplying steam and hot water services, with spacious coal vaults adjoining, and a separate road approach. (Kentish Mercury, 1898)
Session 1: Taking the washing machine apart meant that we were able to observe the materialisation of labour embodied within the technical object. For instance, we reflected that the switchboard controlling the valves from the mains water into the washing power draw, had replaced a human being. This observation, more than anything, emphasised the time-saving aspect of these machines and I recalled an advert from the newspapers in the 1950s which exclaimed about the washing machine that “you don’t even need to stay with it!”
Session 2: Sam and I laid the system out in a linear fashion. This made the washing machine easier to understand as a system of input – process – output. Sam then proceeded to pay close attention to the electrical circuit contained within the machine, while I removed the motor and was able to power it independently of the washing machine using a battery. These practical investigations helped to emphasise the cooperation between separate technical objects that takes place within this domestic appliance.