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Carwashing / Conveyors / Conveyors/Tunnels

A celebration of 100 years of clean cars

March 24, 2014
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The International Carwash Association (ICA) is celebrating 100 years of carwashing throughout 2014. This coincides with their annual event, The Car Wash Show, which takes place from March 31 to April 2 in Chicago. There will be a special celebration this year at the House of Blues honoring the carwash industry. With the upcoming celebration, it’s a perfect time for our readers to learn the history of this unique business that lasted 100 years and is only getting stronger.

1914: The beginning of it all

Automobile Laundry is opened in Detroit by Frank McCormick and J.W. Hinkle. This became the first ever production line carwash in the world. The cars are pushed in a circle to varying stations. Prior to the first automatic wash, there were only 32 drive-through carwashes in the U.S. The carwash business has grown from that into an industry with 150,000 locations worldwide.

Read articles on: Starting a carwash

Circa 1928: The idea for a modern wash

The early designs of a machine that would pull a car through a wash are created.

1946: Putting the conveyor into motion

The execution of the conveyor carwash began in 1946. Thomas Simpson has been given credit with inventing the first semiautomatic carwash. The wash is able to take a great deal of the manual labor out of the tunnel experience. The wash worked by having a conveyor belt attached to the bumper of a car, and being cleaned by sprinklers, manual brushes and air blowers.

1951: The fully automatic carwash

Archie Dean and Eldon Anderson create the fully automatic carwash. As cars are pulled through the machine they are cleaned by soap being sprayed on them, brushes to scrub the vehicle, water to rinse it off and blowers to dry it. Just like now, carwashes were a hit with the public, back then.

The 1960s and 1970s: The self-serve and in-bay automatic

A whole new type of automated carwash emerges over this time. Self-serves are as a wash option where people clean their vehicles with spray guns and brushes. The self-serve market continued to develop with options like spot-remover and tire-cleaners. Two of the most popular features at self-serves today are vacuum cleaners and vending machines.

Over time in-bay automatics become more common at self-serve washes, as the market for more automatic services continued to increase.

1976: Cinematic masterpiece and hit song

The Michael Schultz classic, Car Wash, featuring Richard Pryor is released. The movie centers around a group of close friends as they deal with all sorts of wacky customers on the job. The disco hit single of the same name by Ross Royce is also released

Read also: Benchmarking water consumption for water efficiency

The 1980s: Separation between carwashes and gas stations

The rift begins when gas stations began to compete by offering a free carwash at their locations

The 1990s: Touchless washes

Gas stations begin adding in-bays with bristles, but mostly switched over to touchless washes throughout the 90s.

The 2000s and beyond: Environmental concerns and energy efficiency

Major advances in water conservation and water reclamation are been done in order to preserve the environment and keep up with societal trends. Water reclaim can even be a requirement in areas where water restrictions are in place.

Energy conservation is another important innovation. Carwashes have found a number of ways to minimize their needed electricity. Efficiency has been driven by electrical surge boxes, regulators added to reduce dryer cycle and the installation of solar panels.