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Through the looking glass: The evolution of window cleaning

October 7, 2016

With its youthful gleam and cheeky sparkle, glass succeeds at being timeless. Yet it does, in actual fact, look back on a nine-thousand-year-old history – dating back to the Stone Age (it was obviously pipped to the post when the period’s nickname was decided!). The organised production of glass in the form of jewellery and small jugs began in Egypt approximately four millennia later, where it became a fixture of European architecture, yet it was only in 1861 that the material was introduced widely as a result of its cost effective production – courtesy of a Belgian chemist called Ernest Solvay.

Suddenly, countless office buildings, train stations and ministries were equipped with colossal window facades – keeping the harsh elements at bay while providing light and fresh air – inevitably laying the foundations for the birth of commercial window cleaning. It was Frenchman Marius Moussy (our window-cleaning forefather) who founded the first French Cleaning Institute in Berlin in 1878, with his former employees following suit in other cities, and it soon became a booming industry. With its rich history of iron work, steel making and cutlery, it may be no wonder that Sheffield (one of the areas we proudly cover) was one such city to be privy to this.

While the first window cleaning products were no more complex than rags and water, the earliest specialised tool was the horse-sweat squeegee, which – used in the stables to groom animals – was understood to be absorbent and efficient enough to clean windows. But it was another chap called Ettore Steccone, born in Italy in 1896, who we have to really thank for the squeegee we know and love today.

Seeking his fortune in America in 1922 after serving in the Italian army during the first world war, he soon became a fixture around town riding his Italian motorcycle with a ladder on his shoulders and a bucket hanging precariously from the end. Not content with the tools at his disposal, he worked with his janitorial wife to develop a revolutionary new type of squeegee – a T-shaped tool, made of brass, with a single precision slit rubber blade – managing to clean windows streak-free. Living to see his American dream fulfilled, his family now continues his legacy by providing high-quality window cleaning products to both professionals and homeowners throughout the world. The rest, as they say, is history.

The industry continued to boom in the late 1800s and 1900s, but came to an abrupt standstill as a result of the world wars, which hampered its growth somewhat as bombs demolished buildings. Of course, however, this paved the way for mass rebuilding after the wars, and thus the industry enjoyed a renewed growth.

With the improvement of chemical and manufacturing procedures of the 20th century, there came about a fast advancement of window cleaning tools and products, such as lint-free rags, micro-fibre towels and clay foams. Normal soap soon became inadequate, which, too, paved the way for specialised detergents.

Nowadays, of course, we boast products that achieve things like protecting glass from water spots by leaving a thin layer of wax that seals out wetness – resulting in a reflection of light that creates a beautiful shine and brand spanking new sparkle, no-drip rags, disposable towels, ‘soap-less’ cleaning mops and the reach and wash pole system. We proudly have all the facilities to keep the constantly thriving and rapidly growing ‘Steel City’ sparkling. We’re sure ol’ Papa Marius would be proud.

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