- Lee Maxwell
- 1,350 total number
- United States (Eaton)
The largest collection of washing machines belongs to retired engineer Lee Maxwell (USA). As of 5 August 2019, Maxwell has a collection that includes 1,350 unique washing machines, ranging from hand-cranked wooden contraptions to the sleek white machines found in modern homes. The collection is stored in a pair of converted barns on Maxwell's property in Eaton, Colorado.
Maxwell's collection began during a road-trip he went on in 1985. He and his wife Barbara travelled to Maine to celebrate his retirement from Colorado State University (where he taught electrical engineering). On the outbound journey, they stopped at a farm auction in Iowa, and there Lee bought an antique Maytag gasoline-powered washer. By the time they returned from their trip, the Maxwells had acquired a further 12 machines, as well as a large trailer to transport them in.
Lee's fascination with antique washing machines comes from his appreciation of their ingenious and astonishingly diverse mechanical design. During the first half of the 20th century, hundreds of American inventors had a go at producing washing machines, and almost all of them had their own unique mechanisms and features.
In the process of trying to learn more about his growing collection, Lee discovered that there was almost no scholarly information about the development of this incredibly important piece of technology. For the last few years, Lee has devoted most of his time to filling in this gap in technological history. He has recently started building what he calls "Patent Demos", which are small-scale working models of designs that were patented but either never built, or built but subsequently lost.
All but six of the machines in the collection have been restored to mechanical working order, though many are no longer watertight and so can't actually be used. Now almost 90 years old, Lee is still actively working on his machines, though he's hoping he can find someone to take over the collection soon.