Through the Looking Glass: A Brief History of Window Washing

The window-washing profession has been around as long as glass pane windows have been a part of commercial and residential properties, which is quite a long time! But have you ever wondered how it became a job, despite its perilous and hazardous history?

Back Through the Looking Glass

In 1878, Marius Moussy founded the French Cleaning Institute in Berlin, which dealt exclusively with window cleaning. In 1901, the Federation of German Cleaning Institute Entrepreneurs—which produced the first trade journal—was founded. The industry continued to experience extreme growth throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the First World War and Second World War both put dampers on both the workforce and skill needed. But just one year after the Second World War ended, the Central Guild Association for the Window and Building Cleaning Trade was founded and businesses began to grow again.

Modern window-washing techniques and tools have a deep history, and many of the companies that revolutionized window cleaning are still in business today! In 1936, a Mr. Ettore Steccone (Does the name sound familiar?) designed an early iteration of the modern squeegee we still use today. Unger, founded in 1964, has had a massive impact on both the history and future of window-washing and have been in business for over half a century now. Even our own company, J.Racenstein, has been in business since 1909!

Modern Window-Washing Tools

The Squeegee

The “Chicago squeegee” was commonly used in the early 1900s, but it was a bulky tool that required 12 screws to be loosened just to change the blades. Once Ettore’s squeegee hit the market, window washers quickly realized it was a superior tool and the Ettore company was born. Up until the early 1900s, window cleaners were still using a squeegee as their primary tool of the trade until pure water-fed poles began getting introduced.

The Water-Fed Pole

As technology advanced and buildings grew higher, the need for a safe way to reach tallers windows became a factor in window-washing tool development. Water-fed poles offered the perfect solutions. Not only were they long enough to clean high windows from the safety of the ground, but they offered a way to use pure water, which leaves no streaks, smears, or spots when dried naturally. These systems are the superior choice for many different applications within the industry. Most commercial cleaning companies prefer to use water-fed pole systems, especially since the introduction of tighter health and safety laws governing ladders.

As long as there are glass windows, there will be a need for window cleaning!