The Mercedes-Benz Museum knows how to grab our attention. Why else would it issue a press release headed by a lady with a feather duster?
‘From feather duster to drive-through car wash: car cleaning through the decades,’ it announces. It’s one photo short of being perfect 10 of the Best fodder. Not that this has stopped PetrolBlog from talking about the car wash, yeah.
Frank McCormick and J.W. Hinkle are credited with opening the first automatic car wash in 1914. The Automobile Laundry wasn’t particularly automated: the process involved men pushing a car through a tunnel. One doing the soaping, one doing the rinsing, the other drying the vehicle. Today’s professional detailers would come out in a rash if they witnessed the primitive ‘bucket and sponge’ method of car washing.
The first automatic conveyor car wash didn’t open until 1940 in Hollywood. It used a winch to pull the car through a tunnel, with men soaping, rinsing and drying the vehicle as it moved along the line. Six years later, Thomas Simpson invented a semiautomatic car wash that did away with much of the hard work. An overhead sprinkler was used to wet the vehicles, but manual labour was required to finish the job.
In 1951, brothers Archie, Dean and Eldon Anderson revolutionised the automatic car wash industry. Their system used nozzles to apply soap and rinse the vehicle, along with automatic brushes to remove the grime. At the end, a giant hairdryer-like blower finished the job.
It took a while for the idea to catch on in Europe. Throughout the 50s and early 60s, motorists would rely on buckets and sponges to clean their cars, which were growing in popularity as Europe recovered from the war. As Mercedes puts it: “On Saturday afternoons, the car was carefully washed by hand and polished to a high gloss.
“The ritual was deemed perfect if accompanied by football coverage playing on the car radio.”
In 1962, German inventors Johann Sulzberger and Gebhard Weigele applied for a patent for an automatic car wash for motor vehicles. It was a two-brush system that circled around the car on rails while it was being washed. The partners founded Wesumat Autowaschanlagen, which later merged with its largest rival to become Washtec.
The photos released by Mercedes-Benz chart the history of car washing. From the early days of bristles that could have the effect of a Brillo pad on the paintwork, to the use of a feather duster to clean an SL, it’s the kind of content you need to escape Black Friday nonsense.
Car washing in the road is prohibited in most German towns. On your own property, only clear water and a sponge or brush may be used for cleaning cars – waste water must not be allowed to enter the sewer system or watercourse. That’s even if football coverage is playing on the radio.
Note the photo of the GLS, which shows the car’s automatic car wash mode. With one click, you can fold the outside mirrors, close the side windows and sunroof, deactivate the rain sensor and set the air conditioning to recirculation mode.
Clever, but it’s not a lady with a feather duster, is it? Oh, and spot the imposter. The Honda HR-V is there to make up the numbers and because it adds joy to car washing.