A hand dryers history lesson that will blow your mind

It’s easy to take hand dryers for granted. After all, you spend a matter of seconds using them, and once you’ve dried your hands and carried on with your day, they’re quickly forgotten about.

But when you look past all the industry bluster, the hand dryers history that emerges is far from dull – in fact, it’s rather a rush. 

Breezing through: a speedy exposé of hand dryers’ history

The science of sanitation

Ignaz Semmelweis – a little-known Hungarian obstetrician – could be considered the father of hand washing, and therefore the man ultimately responsible for the existence of hand dryers. 

In the 1840s, Semmelweis became deeply concerned with the high maternal death rates in hospitals compared to those linked to home births. 

After much research, he concluded that deaths were caused as a direct result of doctors conducting human autopsies, then treating expectant mothers without stopping to wash their hands first. 

Sounds shocking – but at the time, hand hygiene wasn’t really understood, so this was not regarded as dangerous. 

Although controversial at first, Semmelweis’ research eventually caused hand-washing and hand-drying to become routine human behaviour. 

The early gusts of genius

The earliest attempt at building an electric hand dryer was that of R.B. Hibbard, D.J. Watrous and J.G. Bassett for the Airdry Corporation of New York. 

Patented in 1921, ‘The Electric Towel’ consisted of an inverted air blower at face-height, operated by using a floor pedal.

Although The Electric Towel eventually took off in the United States, the Airdry Corporation rarely get the credit for inventing the first hand dryer. 

George Clemens (the founder of World Dryer, and inventor of the electric toothbrush) is often remembered as the first man to bring hand dryers to washrooms across America in 1949. But in truth, he was only responsible for adapting and popularising the original Electric Towel design. 

The Jet from Japan

Hand dryers history changed course again in the early 1990s, when Japanese technology company Mitsubishi invented the first ‘hands-in’ dryer.  

Patented in 1993, the innovative Mitsubishi Jet Towel was the first hand dryer to use jets on both sides of the hands. These were used to blow the water away from the skin, rather than evaporating it with heat. 

Although popular in Japan, the Jet Towel didn’t breeze through to the North American and European markets until the early 2000s. 

XLerating into the future

In 2002, manufacturer Excel Dryer released one of the first successful turbo hand dryers – the XLerator. 

With a super fast drying time of 10–15 seconds, the XLerator initially scared some users with its excessively loud airflow mechanism. However, thanks to its speed and efficiency, the XLerator remains one of the most notable (and noisiest) game-changers in hand dryer history. 

Winds of change

Due to intense market competition, hand dryer history is still being made today. Hand dryer technology is also becoming more sophisticated. 

Today’s washroom users demand quicker, quieter and more stylish dryers at their disposal. This means that the washroom technology business will probably see even greater leaps in technology and design as time goes on. 

So, watch this space as more wonderful inventions whoosh their way through...