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The History of Window Cleaning

Glass is one of the oldest materials known to man and it has a rich, chequered and extremely interesting history. Believe it or not, it was first discovered in the Stone Age, around 7000BC! However, it was not until several thousands of years later that the Egyptians popularized it as a form of jewellery – made into coloured beads and trinkets, and also in the form of glassware such as jugs.

There’s even a mention of glassware in the bible – you’d have to look in the Book of Job, Chapter 28, verse 17 in which it is mentioned alongside the precious metal, gold.

Glass as an ornamental decoration is one thing, but glass as a practical product – used for window making and houseware, meant that there would be an increasing need for someone to keep it clean. After all, who wants to live in a house and not be able to see out of the panes of glass? Therefore a need for someone to come round and keep it all clean was established. But it took a long time to develop into the industry we know today.

In fact, it wasn’t until the boom of the industrial revolution during the mid 1800s that the modern window cleaning industry came properly to fruition – and even then it was a bit of a slow burner.

What the Victorians did for window cleaning

It wasn’t until the mid to late Victorian period, when a large construction boom happened in Britain, that window cleaning had to become commonplace. Then, it was a relatively simple (though time consuming and laborious) procedure, usually carried out by the servants in big houses, or by ordinary housewives in normal homes. It would have been done with a metal bucket, hot water and a lot of cleaning cloths. Sometimes vinegar would be used to cut through grease and add shine to the window panes, but there was very little in the way of commercially branded products to use to clean glass at this time. There are even suggestions that newspaper would be used in the final stage of buffing the glass – there was a specific ingredient in the ink that helped to stop greasy smears from appearing!

The arrival of the Squeegee

We have to look to the USA to find a more modern approach to keeping glass windows sparkling. The Chicago Squeegee was developed in the early 1900s, though it bears very little resemblance to the tool we know today. This was a bulky piece of equipment, very unwieldy to carry, that was made up of two pink blades and held together with twelve large screws. These would have to be regularly loosened and changed, so proved to neither be economically sound, or easy to use! For the time, the Chicago Squeegee was considered to be relatively high tech – and it remained a staple of window cleaning until the late 1930s when the modern day squeegee, something more akin to what we’d recognise today was invented by an Italian called Ettore Steccone. This was made with a handle of brass and had only one, workable rubber blade, making it much easier to both hold and use commercially and domestically.

The company, still bearing it’s founder’s name is going strong to this day and is also still providing supplies to professional window cleaners all over the world!

All change

The Squeegee was still commonly used up until the mid 1990s. But as we headed into the 21st century, it was clear there needed to be a change in window cleaning technology. It became steadily replaced with a water fed pole system, making it much easier and more practical for professional window cleaners to carry out their work more quickly.

This type of system also means that window cleaners can work in comparative safety too. No longer needing ladders or cherry pickers to clean windows. The water fed poles can usually stretch anywhere up to seventy feet in height, and use a brush and deionized water to simply sweep grease and grime away from glass. The cleaner themselves can do all the work from ground level and needs to only be able to operate the machinery itself.