Considering that cars are a relatively recent invention (historically speaking), the car wash is, by default, also somewhat new. It didn’t take long for people to realize that it made sense to have a place specifically where car owners could go to clean their vehicles. And although it’s fun to picture elephants cleaning cars, that was never actually part of the car wash industry! Let’s take a walk down memory lane and visit the history of the modern car wash.
Born in 1914 Detroit — Motor City, of course! — car owners could drive their cars through the very first car wash manned by an assembly line of car wash employees. The first attendant soaped up the car, a second rinsed it, and a third was in charge of drying.
In 1940 in Hollywood, California, a car wash opened up where live employees still did the soaping, washing and drying, but the cars were pulled forward by a winch attached to the bumper. In 1946, the first semi-automatic car wash opened with a conveyor belt replacing the winch. Fast forward to 1950 where a fully automated car wash in Seattle introduced machines that performed the cleaning process. The 1960s were huge for the car wash industry with the invention of recirculating water systems, soft cloth friction washing, roller on demand conveyor and the wraparound brush. That is an incredible change in less than five decades!
So next time you’re in the automatic car wash watching the brushes tackle that dirt and grime, picture yourself being pulled through a tunnel by a winch attached to your bumper and seeing guys with sponges and buckets cleaning away. Amazing how much has changed!