July 29

Who Invented Window Cleaning?

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The Rise of Professional Window Washing

Glass is everywhere now. Walk through a city center, and you will be surrounded by it, sheets of it covering skyscrapers and stretching to the sky. In the suburbs, each house comes with regular squares of it. Even in the deep countryside, a rural view will be studded by sharply-cut shapes catching the sunlight.

 

However, it hasn’t always been like this. Britain started producing sheet glass in the early 17th century when it was expensive and time-consuming to make and could only be found in the fanciest of homes. Then, in the mid-1800s, a bit of chemical know-how and some clever thinking made glass more accessible, and it started to be incorporated into everyday houses and buildings. As glass become more common, people had to figure out a way to keep it clean, which ultimately resulted in the demand for professional window cleaning services.

 

Along Comes the Squeegee 

For a long time, if you wanted to get those windows clean, it was a simple matter of a bucket of (hopefully) hot water, a fistful of rags, and a whole lot of elbow grease, but then, the world was introduced to the first specialized window cleaning tool: the squeegee.

 

Its design was derived from a tool that people used to clean fish blood and guts off of ship surfaces — described by Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, as ‘‘a sort of leathern hoe called a “squilgee”.  Back on dry land, these were initially quite unwieldy, heavy-duty things, but in 1936, an Italian by the name of Ettore Steccone who had emigrated to America refined the design, making it lighter and more maneuverable.

 

You’d recognize it instantly — a single handle branching out into a T-shape with a horizontal, fine-pointed rubber edge. You probably have one at home, or use one to de-ice the car windscreen.  

 

Squeegees are still used professionally every day, with Steccone’s family still running the business. They are charming in their simplicity and were revolutionary, creating a nimbler form of window cleaning. 

 

The Secrets of Industry

Despite the depression, the ‘30s were something of a boom time for advances in window cleaning, and a few years prior to Mr. Stecconne patenting his new design, Windex arrived on the scene. It was created by Philip Dracket, who was steering his chemical company away from hard industry and bringing the recent decades’ scientific advances into domestic applications. 

 

As a result, people didn’t need the fistful of rags and a few hours of hard scrubbing anymore since things had become as simple as a wipe-on wipe-off routine. It was all a bit sci-fi, the modern age coming into the home, and like Stecconne’s squeegee business, Dracket’s company is being operated by his great-great-grandson, who is still trying to modernize and find ways to minimize plastic waste and keep window cleaning environmentally sound.

 

Modern Window Cleaning

Today, there is a full array of tools, tips, and tricks available for window cleaning, including, of course, the ever-reliable squeegee for smaller tasks.  Since Windex first burst onto the scene, the market has become complete with every form of safe, chemically-advanced de-greaser, cleaner, and polisher that someone faced with a dirty window could dream of. 

 

The main development of recent years has been the use of the water-fed pole system, the window cleaner’s response to the modern world’s bigger buildings with bigger windows. Dominating the big window game since the early ‘90s, these poles transport purified water internally, have brushes at the end, and can be as long as 70ft. In summary, nobody really invented window cleaning; it’s developed over the years. From some poor soul with a cold bucket of water scrubbing away at a cold English manor house, it has matured into a smooth, advanced practice of techniques and products. Now, professional and home window cleaning services like PWCBA have everything they need to keep glass gleaming and clean.


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