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Car Wash History Lessons Learned from the First Car Washes

Home/ Car Wash History Lessons Learned from the First Car Washes
Car Wash History: Lessons Learned from the First Car Washes

Car Wash Superstore

Monday, June 3, 2019

The International Carwash Association recognized the 100-year anniversary of the very first car wash just a few years ago, in 2014. In 1914, two Detroit business people opened “Automobile Laundry,” where their employees would take turns pushing Model T’s and other newfangled horseless carriages through an assembly-line-like tunnel.

It was logical both that this new venture would be born in the “Motor City” and that it would attempt to mimic the specialization process that Henry Ford utilized to mass produce his massively popular automobiles.

Cars and car washes have changed dramatically in the last 100-plus years – if you still have to crank your engine, for instance, it may be time to find a new vehicle – but there are plenty of lessons from the early days of car washing that apply today.

You’re So Special

We might have stopped shoving cars through a wash facility like they’re a stalled sedan that’s stuck in the road, but one main feature of that very first car wash persists: specialization.

As one employee kept the car rolling, others would individually attend to other tasks. Soaping, washing, and drying were split up into separate tasks, just like the hyper-efficient method of car-assembly that Henry Ford popularized.

While many car washes have now fully automated and mechanized these processes, the general concept remains the same, as a car moves along the conveyor belt from one specialized task to another. A great benefit that this process provides to owners and operators is that they have the ability to customize their facility, upgrading one part of the wash at a time as new chemicals and new equipment arrives on the market to provide ever-improving quality to customers.

Image Is Everything

Lower backs everywhere celebrated when the next big idea in car washing was introduced: no more pushing cars by hand!

Hollywood was the home of the first conveyor wash. According to NBC, “A primitive winch system would tow a vehicle through the tunnel, though employees still had to handle most of the dirty work of scrubbing the vehicle clean.” Californians of this era were notoriously nutty about their cars, and it makes sense that car washes would re-invent themselves in the home of the film industry.

The lesson to be learned: glamour matters.

Hollywood is the home of the moving image, and vehicles are a moving image of a different kind. Owners often buy and maintain their cars as a projection of their own self-image. And then they put that image into motion.

Even though the work of cleaning cars can be grimy, car washing is ultimately a glamour business.

“Innovation Is the Only Way to Win”

Car wash operators have rarely been shy about trying new concepts, though their approaches have had varying levels of success.

One of the more interesting early innovations was found in the 1920’s at Chicago’s Auto Bowl. They provided a water pool where car owners would drive in circles to remove all the mud from their tires before entering the wash tunnel for body work.

And you thought “car-pooling” was just about getting the kids to school on time!

Then and now, innovation grabs the attention of customers.

Car Wash Superstore understands the need for creative solutions, both to improve the product and the customer experience. Whether you are looking to modernize by incorporating touchless pay systems, or upgrading your chemicals and sprayers, we have the most current technologies, as well as many easy kits for retro-fitting old equipment with new features. Contact us today to learn more!

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