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Shaker Museum

Washer, Clothes

Water- or steam-powered washing machine built and patented by the Canterbury, NH Shakers

ca. 1860

Object ID:
New Hampshire, Canterbury

Three-tub washing machine with drive mechanism. Frame stock of machine is of birch although the beams supporting the cast iron bearing housings appear to be birch resting on heavier ash timbers. White pine used in the interior, including the agitators. The bottom of the tub compartment zinc-covered. Drive mechanism of cast iron. Brass pipes and water valves for hot and cold water; drain valve mounted under machine.


In 1858 the United States Patent Office issued patent number 18181 to Nicholas Bennett (1773-1857), family deacon and mechanic at the Mount Lebanon, NY, Church Family, for a washing machine. The patent was assigned to David Parker (1807-?) at Canterbury, NH, because Bennett died between the time when he applied for the patent and when it was granted. The Shakers at Canterbury manufactured Bennett's washing machine for sale, issuing catalogues and instruction manuals. In 1877 patent number 193802 was granted to Nicholas A. Briggs (1841-?) and Elijah H. Knowles at Canterbury for an improvement on Bennett's machine. The 1858 and 1877 machines both agitated multiple tubs of laundry with a crank shaft that drove a reciprocating rod connected to rails running along the front and rear edges of the washtubs from which the agitators were suspended. The rails were free to move back and forth several inches to achieve the agitation. The rails on the 1858 machine were suspended, much like a porch swing, from long iron rods connected to wooden supports above the washtubs. The 1877 improvement eliminated these rods and replaced them with tubular bearings mounted on the rails that were free to slide along iron rods mounted on the front and rear edges of the washtubs. The whole mechanism was out of the way of the operator and out of sight. The risk of lubricant dripping into the wash was also eliminated. Washing machines were sold in four sizes: three, four, six, and eight tub models. This machine with three tubs requiring ten feet, four inches of space would have been dwarfed by the eight tub machine that required a full twenty-three feet, two inches. The multi-tub machine allowed the operator flexibility to wash laundry in water of different temperatures and with different soap strengths at the same time. A tub could be set aside just for rinsing. In 1877 the Shakers claimed to have sold over 300 machines to hotels and residential institutions, reporting that those who "have had much and long experience in the attempt to wash clothes by power machines... found that it wears clothes much less than by any other principle yet known or adopted in washing." The success of the washing machine led the Shakers to display the machine for six months at the Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia beginning May 10, 1876 [see photograph 1952.5112.1, which shows the machine at the exposition]. There they received additional acclaim by being awarded a medal by the United States Centennial Commission. This washing machine is the only extant machine of this design made by the Shakers. Until it was removed in 1949, the washing machine was installed in working condition in the Canterbury wash house [photo of interior of wash house NOC 15731].

Blog post on the washing machine:

New Hampshire Canterbury

New Hampshire Canterbury

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Copyright of this artwork Citation rules

Citation rules

Shaker Museum Washer, Clothes. Accessed on March 3, 2024


1952.5112.1 - Photograph, Cabinet - [Shaker Six-Tub Washing Machine Exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876]



1954.6755.132 - Print, Photographic - "Washing Mill," Canterbury, NH



1954.6755.133 - Print, Photographic - "Inside of mill," Canterbury, NH



Wash: There is no dirt in heaven (temporary exhibition)


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Shane Rothe

Curatorial Associate

Shane Rothe (they/them) joined Shaker Museum in July 2023, working with independent curator Maggie Taft on an exhibition for the new museum space in Chatham. Shane is an artist as well as a curator and continues to create in the mediums of painting, sculpture, writing, and performance. Shane holds a BFA from CalArts and an MA in art history and curatorial studies from the University of Chicago.