A Complete History Of The Car Wash

by | Sep 1, 2020

Ah, the car wash. There is something so magical about the standard modern-day car wash with its flashing colorful lights and thick luxurious foam.

Taking your car for a spin through one of these babies is almost an outing in and of itself. Whether you prefer a professional detailer or a quick one and done automatic wash, do you know the history of the car wash? 

People have been washing their vehicles since there were vehicles to drive after their invention and then popularization in the early 20th century. My curious mind has often wondered if there were such a thing as horse and carriage washes before the days of vehicles, but to my dismay, I have been unable to find evidence of legitimate business that specialized in the washing of horses in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Washing Vehicles In The Early 20th Century

Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company in 1903 with a distinct purpose, he wanted to see a car parked in front of every house in the country. Though not the first to invent the car, Henry did make it accessible and popularized for the middle and lower classes. By 1908 he had all the tools he needed to accomplish his goal with the creation of the Model T and the assembly line. 

As his vehicle dropped in price with his manufacturing costs, it made a car within reach of more than just the most select of the upper class. Within a few short years, owning a car became more than possible for many in the country and as the average American began to acquire vehicles, an emerging problem began to become apparent to entrepreneurs, what would society do to clean and care for their shiny new vehicles? 

Well in 1914 a man by the name of Thomas Simpson set out to serve this new market of customers in Detroit, who thanks to Henry Ford and the more than reasonable price of Ford vehicles, could also afford to pay someone else to wash their model T. Thomas Simpson named his news business Automated Laundry, which was in no way an automated car wash system. Instead, this car wash resembled the sponge and bucket method many of us have personally used for parking lot fundraisers and at home driveway washes.

How it worked at Automated Laundry in 1914, was a team of three men would push your vehicle through a tunnel making three stops. One fire wash, rinse and dry! There was no wax option at this time though people had been waxing their horse-drawn carriages since the early 1800s when someone in Germany invented the first wax out of animal fats. 

This was as good as it got until the 1940s when the car wash industry got a bit more high tech, although car washes did begin slowly increasing in popularity with more and more popping up across the country and the world. And they did not stray from innovation. Some car washes even had drivers go full speed around a race track to get off any loose dirt that could be shaken. It probably wasn’t very effective, but it sure gave the customer a unique experience. 

The Dawn Of Technology In The Car Wash Industry

 In the early 1940’s the first car wash that wasn’t physically powered by people opened in Hollywood, California. Instead of physical manpower pushing the cars through a tunnel, a belt was attached to each vehicle and brought it down the conveyor line. The washing, rinsing, and drying of the vehicle was still provided by physical manpower and this wouldn’t begin to change until several years later. 

In 1946, a man named Thomas Simpson unveiled the first car wash with automated sprinklers in addition to a conveyer belt that pulled the vehicles through it. The physical washing and drying was still done by hand by his employees using large brushes, the precursors to those we currently see in automated car washes. The first model of the automated car wash that closely resembled those we see today was finally ready to service its first customer in 1951. 

It was a car wash in Seattle, Washington that showed the world just how high tech car washes could be. The business was owned by three brothers: Archie, Dean, and Eldon Anderson. You may not have known their names until this moment, but the three truly revolutionized the car wash industry and made quite a bit of cash for themselves and investors along the way. 

Now added to the car wash system was an automated soap dispensing machine, large automated brushes to scrub away dirt, and a 50hp blow dryer. These innovations paired with the overhead sprinkler system and car pulley system left the vehicles who visited them squeaky clean with absolutely zero human effort involved. 

People were absolutely blown away by these innovations at the time. The three brother’s car wash became an overnight success! Customers believed they were stepping into the future and man were they right! Allured by the prosperity and success of Archie, Dean, and Eldon Anderson, fully automated car washes slowly began populating the United States.

In the 1960s things really started moving in the car wash industry. By the late years of this decade car wash companies were a prominent industry with locations all over the United States but also in countries across the globe including Japan.

Further Advancements

So to the average car wash user, this all sounds pretty standard and like car wash technologies haven’t made huge strides. If this is what you were thinking, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure the wash, rinse and dry functions of a car wash are relatively straight forward, but the environmental and efficiency innovations are just as important to highlight. 

As technological advancements continue to push humans to newer and greater limits, the car wash industry evolves as well. Energy and water conservation efforts and standards are continuously being updated. 

In closing, the car wash industry is constantly growing. Who knows what innovations we will see next from this sector of our economy. 50 years from now when your car drives itself, and even flies, but still needs a good old fashion washing, remember where the car wash industry got its roots 100 years ago. 

Resources:

https://www.google.com/search?q=when+was+the+car+wash+invented&oq=when+was+the+car+wash+i&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0.6832j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_wash
http://www.avictorian.com/servants_coachman.html
https://www.detailxperts.net/blog/2015/09/17/auto-detailing-a-brief-history/#:~:text=of%20auto%20detailing.-,History%20of%20Auto%20Detailing,was%20invented%20by%20Karl%20Benz.

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