Schenectady Gazette via Google News
Schenectady Gazette via Google News

Bring Back the Thor Automagic, the 1940s Hybrid Clothes/Dishwasher

Schenectady Gazette via Google News
Schenectady Gazette via Google News

In a just world, I would be able to clean my pants in a dishwasher. Despite the incredible technological advancements we've made in the past century, this still isn't possible. I can check my email in an airplane flying 35,000 feet over the ocean, but if want to throw a pair of khakis in with wine glasses after dinner I'm asking for too much all of a sudden.

When I brought up this idea to friends and co-workers, many expressed concern over dirty clothes contaminating dinnerware. Why? The desired end-result for both my laundry and my dirty dishes is the same: get clean. And as the old saying goes, "clean is clean" (that is not an old saying but let's keep moving here). Either way, were I to throw my pants in a consumer-grade dishwasher, they wouldn't come out clean as desired. Hard, slick materials like plates and glasses only require a spray and rinse, whereas soft fabrics need to soak and be agitated in order to remove the absorbed and ingrained grime. The two tasks also call for different types of detergents. Alas, my problem persists.

Wouldn't it be great if you only needed one machine? I'm not the first person to have thought this, for we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

In 1890, inventor Margaret A. Wilcox submitted a patent application for a combination clothes- and dishwasher (Shaunacy Ferro features the invention in this piece). It doesn't look as if the device, which relied on an air pump and hand crank for operation, ever made it to production, but Margaret A. Wilcox was a woman who got it. (Wilcox would later go on to achieve deserved recognition for inventing the first car heating system.)

After Wilcox's patent submission, it wasn't until the mid-1940s that the dream of a hybrid dishwasher and washing machine would come alive. That's when the Electric Household Utilities Corp. released their Thor Automagic combination clothes- and dishwasher, a machine that featured interchangeable tubs that could be swapped out depending on which items you were washing.

Here is a video showing a lucky Automagic owner testing out both features in a refurbished model:

A paragon of versatility! Why doesn't every home in America feature this beautiful, indiscriminate cleaning cube? Take my money, Electric Household Utilities Corp., take it now!

Even though it didn't allow you to wash dishes and clothes in one giant clump (as is my ultimate dream), it's still an ingenious and space-saving idea. I currently don't own a dishwasher or a washing machine, but were this to still exist, I could knock both purchases out in one fell—and economically smart—swoop.

According to the man who refurbished the Automagic featured in this video (a 1955 version of the machine—one of its last years in production), it had "just one wash speed," which provided "a gentle agitation." The video doesn't demonstrate the Automagic's dishwashing tub attachment (it's "off to be re-galvanized"), but he assures it's "very ingenious ... you will never cross-contaminate wash and dishwash water, all held in separate tubs!!"

He's not the only one excited about the Automagic. A commenter recalls, "I grew up with one of these ... We were a family of nine so my poor Mum really needed it. I have just written a poem about it! On firework night the rabbits and guinea pigs were put in the drum (no water and switched off—natch) to save them from being frightened by the bangs!" If that isn't the loveliest remembrance of a home appliance you have ever read, please send me the lovelier ones ASAP.

When asked if this would be a viable machine today, Roy Berendsohn, the Senior Home Editor at Popular Mechanics, doesn't sound as impressed. “Combining these two appliances, I think you’ll probably end up with a machine that does one function well and the other poorly or both poorly,” he says. “It seems unlikely that you’d produce a machine that does both well. Not to mention a machine that does both well and meets the energy-saving and water-conserving standards that modern (separate) appliances do.”

It’s true, modern dishwashers only use about six gallons per cycle, whereas a washing machine will use around 40 gallons for a full load. Any water-saving benefits would likely be lost due to the unique requirements of each task.

“Besides, what would you do if you want to wash dishes and do laundry at the same time?” Berendsohn adds. “Busy people would have little patience for swapping out tubs to handle these routine chores.”

The precise reason the Thor Automagic faded from marketplace relevancy isn't entirely clear, but its fall can be tracked as advertisements for the appliance stopped appearing in magazines in the early 1950s. Some of the last places where you'll find evidence of the Electric Household Utilities Corp. or Thor are in various directories of obsolete securities.

An inglorious end for such an ingenious product. It may not have been perfect, but at least it tried. If the day ever comes when we can proudly throw our pants into the dishwasher, we'll be able to look back and give thanks to the clever Automagic.

Slice of Sauce
This Ketchup Will be Sold by the Slice
Slice of Sauce
Slice of Sauce

Some have called it a food abomination. Others believe it will be the next big thing in food disruption. It’s ketchup taken out of its customary bottle or squeeze packet and distributed via cheese-like slices. And it may be coming to a store near you.

Slice of Sauce slices appear on a cutting board
Slice of Sauce

In March 2018, a company called Bo’s Fine Foods organized a Kickstarter for Slice of Sauce, a new—and highly controversial—method of packaging the condiment. Each retail pouch will contain eight “slices” of dried ketchup that Bo’s argues has several advantages over the bottled version. The ketchup won’t soak a piece of bread or sputter out in watery blasts: Consumers will get an even application of it every time, with the ketchup distributed equally among each bite. Each slice has 30 calories and 5 grams of sugar, with no high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives.  

As Vice pointed out, the idea is similar to chef Ernesto Uchimura’s “ketchup leather,” a novelty food hack he created in 2014.

While Slice of Sauce may help prevent apparel-related squirting mishaps, it’s not entirely clear whether people will embrace this rogue approach to dispensing tomato paste. The idea of freezing and then serving slices of peanut butter was met with scorn in 2017. Today reports that some Twitter critics have refused to acknowledge a “ketchup fruit roll-up” while others promise to “make a huge scene” if confronted with it while dining out. We’ll see if Slice of Sauce can dispense some unconventional success when it starts shipping to Kickstarter backers and select retail stores in June.

[h/t Today]

19 Things You Might Not Know Were Invented by Women

Necessity isn't the only mother of invention. Though it wasn't always easy to get patents or the credit they deserved, women are responsible for many items we use today.


paper bag with groceries

America got a brand new paper bag when cotton mill worker Margaret Knight invented a machine to make them with a flat square bottom in 1868. (Paper bags originally looked more like envelopes.) A man named Charles Annan saw her design and tried to patent the idea first. Knight filed a lawsuit and won the patent fair and square in 1871.


Kevlar material

Lightweight, high-tensile Kevlar—five times stronger than steel—will take a bullet for you. DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek accidentally invented it while trying to perfect a lighter fiber for car tires and earned a patent in 1966.


foot-pedal trash can

Lillian Gilbreth improved existing inventions with small, but ingenious, tweaks. In the early 1900s, she designed the shelves inside refrigerator doors, made the can opener easier to use, and tidied up cleaning with a foot pedal trash can. Gilbreth is most famous for her pioneering work in efficiency management and ergonomics with her husband, Frank. Two of their 12 children, Frank Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth, humorously wrote about their home/work collaborations in the book Cheaper by the Dozen.


Monopoly game

Elizabeth Magie created The Landlord's Game to spread the economic theory of Georgism—teaching players about the unfairness of land-grabbing, the disadvantages of renting, and the need for a single land value tax on owners. Fun stuff! Magie patented the board game in 1904 and self-published it in 1906. Nearly 30 years later, a man named Charles Darrow rejiggered the board design and message and sold it to Parker Brothers as Monopoly. The company bought Magie's patent for the original game for $500 and no royalties.


windshield wipers on red car

Drivers were skeptical when Mary Anderson invented the first manual windshield wipers in 1903. They thought it was safer to drive with rain and snow obscuring the road than to pull a lever to clear it. (Another woman inventor, Charlotte Bridgwood, invented an automatic version with an electric roller in 1917. It didn't take off, either.) But by the time Anderson's patent expired in 1920, windshield wipers were cleaning up. Cadillac was the first to include them in every car model, and other companies soon followed.


disposable diaper

Marion Donovan didn't take all the mess out of diaper changing when she patented the waterproof "Boater" in 1951. But she changed parenting—and well, babies—forever. The waterproof diaper cover, originally made with a shower curtain, was first sold at Saks Fifth Avenue. Donovan sold the patent to the Keko Corporation for $1 million and then created an entirely disposable model a few years later. Pampers was born in 1961.



Patented in 1886, the first dishwasher combined high water pressure, a wheel, a boiler, and a wire rack like the ones still used for dish drying. Inventor Josephine Cochrane never used it herself, but it made life easier for her servants.


liquid paper

In the days before the delete key, secretary Bette Nesmith Graham secretly used white tempera paint to cover up her typing errors. She spent years perfecting the formula in her kitchen before patenting Liquid Paper in 1958. Gillette bought her company in 1979 for $47.5 million. And that's no typo.


Alphabet blocks

Children don't read books by anti-suffrage author Adeline D.T. Whitney these days—and that's probably for the better. But the wooden blocks she patented in 1882 still help them learn their ABCs.


Nurse holding newborn

Life is a series of tests, starting with the Apgar, named after obstetrical anesthesiologist Dr. Virginia Apgar. In 1952, she began testing newborns one minute and five minutes after birth to determine if they needed immediate care. About 10 years later, the medical community made a backronym—an acronym designed to fit an existing word—to remember the criteria scored: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration.


marine signal flares

Communication between ships was once limited to colored flags, lanterns, and screaming things like "Thar she blows!" really loudly. Martha Coston didn't come up with the idea for signal flares all by herself. She found plans in a notebook that belonged to her late husband. The determined widow spent 10 years working with chemists and pyrotechnics experts to make the idea a reality. But she was only named administratrix in the 1859 patent—Mr. Coston got credited as the inventor.


circular saw

A weaver named Tabitha Babbitt was the first to suggest that lumber workers use a circular saw instead of the two-man pit saw that only cut when pulled forward. She made a prototype and attached it to her spinning wheel in 1813. Babbitt's Shaker community didn't approve of filing a patent, but they took full advantage of the invention.


Dog on leash

New York City dog owner Mary A. Delaney patented the first retractable leading device in 1908. It attached to the collar, keeping pooches under control, while giving them some freedom to roam. Incidentally, someone named R.C. O'Connor patented the first child harness 11 years later. Coincidence? Maybe.



It's difficult to find any in-depth information about early inventor Sarah Mather. Her combination telescope and lamp for submarines, patented in 1845, speaks for itself.


folding bed

Sarah E. Goode's folding cabinet bed didn't just maximize space in small homes. In 1885, it made her the first African-American woman with a U.S. patent. The fully functional desk could be used by day and then folded down for a good night's sleep. The Murphy bed came along some 15 years later.


solar panels

Biophysicist Maria Telkes's place was in the house—the very first 100 percent solar house. In 1947, the Hungarian scientist invented the thermoelectric power generator to provide heat for Dover House, a wedge-shaped structure she conceived with architect Eleanor Raymond. Telkes used Glauber's salt, the sodium salt of sulfuric acid, to store heat in preparation for sunless days. Dover House survived nearly three Massachusetts winters before the system failed.


spaghetti spilled on floor

Apparently, it takes a stain to fight one. In 1952, 3M chemist Patsy Sherman was perplexed when some fluorochemical rubber spilled on a lab assistant's shoe and wouldn't come off. Without changing the color of the shoe, the stain repelled water, oil, and other liquids. Sherman and her co-inventor Samuel Smith called it Scotchgard. And the rest is ... preserving your couch.


camera lens

Katharine Blodgett, General Electric's first female scientist, discovered a way to transfer thin monomolecular coatings to glass and metals in 1935. The result: glass that eliminated glare and distortion, which revolutionized cameras, microscopes, eyeglasses, and more.


old computer

Women in computer science have a role model in Grace Hopper. She and Howard Aiken designed Harvard's Mark I computer, a five-ton, room-sized machine in 1944. Hopper invented the compiler that translated written language into computer code and coined the terms "bug" and "debugging" when she had to remove moths from the device. In 1959, Hopper was part of the team that developed COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.


More from mental floss studios