Better Than Hanging: The History of the Dryer

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J. Ross Moore was damp as hell, and he was not going to take it anymore.  On his farm in North Dakota, in the early 1900s, Moore knew there had to be a better way.  Frustrated with having to hang his clothes outside to dry, he built a shed, stuck an oven in it, and started hanging his clothes there instead.  With that, the light bulb went off over his head.  Moore took his idea a step further, making an oil-heated drum to dry his clothes in.  He later sold this idea to a manufacturer, who produced a machine they called the “June Day.”  By 1938, the “June Day” was being sold in stores and J. Ross Moore, once only a farmer with clammy clothes, became the inventor of what is known today as “the dryer.”

It took J. Ross Moore about 30 years to invent the dryer.  Several other now-common items had already hit the market when the dryer was finally completed – the iron (1903), vacuum cleaner (1907), dishwasher (1913), and pop-up toaster (1919) were all being used already.  So why, one might ask, did it take so long for a clothes dryer to be invented?  And, greater still, why has clothes drying technology advanced so little in our modern age?

Dryers first started using a negative pressure system to dry clothes back in 1958, and that’s pretty much the same way clothes are dried in a modern dryer.  In other words, while dryers have gotten more gadgets and special features (like settable timers, for instance), the method of drying clothes hasn’t changed.  The dryer, then, despite what could be a fancy appearance, is maybe the most unevolved of appliances; just look in a laundry mat, where the dryers still have coin slots.  Even the soda machine can take a dollar bill, but to dry clothes a person must have quarters, as if they’re at an arcade in 1986.  I remember walking around the laundry mat with a roll of quarters, not sure if I was there to dry my clothes or play Donkey Kong.

I became curious about dryers because I live in South Korea and there are no dryers here.  There are, I’m told, machines that can both wash and dry clothes, but there aren’t machines specifically for drying clothes, and the multi washer/dryer is not that common.  In its place is the drying rack, which I have in my apartment.  It takes about two-thirds of a day for clothes to dry on a drying rack, although I typically leave mine on longer.  I want my clothes super-dry.  Anything less doesn’t make sense to me; that would be like showering, looking at your towel, and choosing to shake-dry instead.

As I collected my clothes from the drying rack this morning, I asked myself that most important question: why has clothes drying technology advanced so little?  The answer, I believe, is that there are some things that don’t need to get any better, and really probably aren’t all that needed in the first place.  As wonderful as J. Ross Moore’s invention is, the dryer is essentially a tool of convenience.  I’ve read that in Japan right now, they’re busy trying to invent a “microwave clothes dryer,” but it has so many safety problems that they can’t get it approved.  Leave a pencil in your shorts, and the microwave dryer will burst them into flames.  Forget a cigarette lighter, and the microwave dryer explodes.  The simple act of drying clothes doesn’t lend itself to all the wonders technology has to offer, and pursuing it any more just isn’t worth it.  This particular field of business, it seems, has all dried-up. 

(Note: I would like to point out that I start this essay with a play on a famous movie quote, and end it with a pun.  That’s all.  Thank you.)

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