Remember Old Fashioned Hand Dryers?

People debate evolution as it pertains to life on Earth, but there is no questioning evolution as it pertains to the hand dryers found in the restrooms of schools, restaurants, and rest areas off the New Jersey Turnpike.  Hanging on the wall of some biology classroom there is a chart showing a slimy amphibious hand dryer crawling out of the primordial soup, a few matzoh balls still clinging to its metal chassis, and its fins and crank evolving into feet and a blower.

Yes, kids, the hand dryers that populate my sepia-toned memories of public school boys’ rooms in the 1980s have unadorned metal cranks that rolled out brown paper towel that could do anything except dry one’s hands.  We would wet the paper towels and wrap them around our foreheads in imitation of the pop starlets of the day.  One time my grandfather asked me why I was doing this, and I told him it was because the paper towels were not good for drying.

“Ah, you kids today are so spoiled,” he said.  “I remember when we had to dry our hands on dried animal skins.  Sometimes our hands would come away filthier than before, with grime and dried blood.  Have you ever gone out to dinner at a five-star restaurant with the parents of the girl you’re dating, and come back from the restroom with dried animal blood on your hands?”

Mixed in with the lavatory tin lizzies were electric hand dryers.  This marvelous invention was a white fixture with a stunted chrome proboscis and circular button by which one could trigger the stream of lukewarm air.  The circular button looked at if it had once looked magnificent dressed in a shiny chrome finish.  But that finish had been worn off by thousands of wet hands, forearms, elbows, and even feet banging the button.  Did anyone ever gently push that circular once-chrome button instead of banging it?  It was an unspoken that only real washroom users made a fist and pounded it into the button to start the dryer, like the Fonz starting the jukebox at Arnold’s.

The really funny thing about those old hand dryers is the word “dryer.”  I don’t remember ever getting my hands dry on the first time through, or even the second.  I would have to stand there for a good ten minutes, banging away the last flecks of chrome off that poor battered circular button while a line of irate men with wet hands formed behind me.

That would never happen today.  Those hand dryers from the Industrial Revolution have been replaced by turbo-speed hand dryers that blow the skin right off your hands.  And you don’t have to bang any buttons, either.  The dryers are triggered by infrared sensors that can see wet hands before them as well as Taliban commandos in the Afghanistani night.

The configurations of the hand dryers are different, too.  Instead of blowing air straight down, I’ve seen dryers that are folded over, and you place your hands inside a crease and the turbo-speed hot air dries your hands from both sides.  In the future you’ll place your hands inside a teleportation chamber.  The wet hands will be transported to a galaxy far, far away, where a swarm of miniature winged drier-fairies, that fly about your hands and dry them, not unlike the people that work at car washes.  Once dry, your hands are teleported back to the chamber in the rest room.  And you won’t find it strange at all that your hands are missing.  Due to the principles of special relativity, no earth-time passes at all while your hands are being dried light years away.

The circular chrome buttons are a thing of the past.  Somewhere in a junkyard there is a giant pile of circular chrome buttons from old-fashioned hand dryers.  Families bring their children to play on the piles, and on the way home, perhaps at the obligatory stop off at McDonald’s, the children ask the parents how the piles got there.

And the parents smile, and maybe tell the children the truth, that technology changed so that people could have drier hands, and the circular chrome buttons had to sent out to pasture.  But more likely they’ll tell their children that the chrome buttons got lonely, sitting all alone in this restroom or that, and congregate to one place where they could be together.  Forever.

16 thoughts on “Remember Old Fashioned Hand Dryers?

  1. They replaced the paper towels in our office with “next generation” hand dryers. There is nothing more awkward and gross than a bunch of guys standing around with wet hands after taking a dump waiting to dry themselves. I had to bring in some contraband Bounty because it was getting to be too much.

    Rob, The Mainland

    1. Hand Dryers, The Next Generation. Starring Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
      “This is Jean-Luc Picard of the Hand Dryer Enterprise. Jordy, please waive your pale android face over the the sensor and dispense me a moist towelette.”
      Yeah, every men’s room runs out of towels within the first 15 seconds of the day. Most guys would just use the state of the art rub hands-on-pants method. Nice to see you take the initiative. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Ha, you are absolutely correct when you refer to the new and improved dryers blasting the skin right off of your hands. I have to admit that they make me laugh to myself, as I watch all my skin flatten out… my hands look so young!!

    1. Who needs these expensive bottled fountains of youth that they hawk on the Home Shopping Network? Just take a turn at the sink and dryer and watch the years melt away. Thanks for the comment, Carol.

  3. I remember those from when I was a kid. They never dried your hands! And you had to rub rub rub. The new dyson ones are awesome. Great post!

    1. I’m fairly sure that’s why so many of us developed the habit of giving rubbing our hands under the dryer for a few seconds, giving them a shake and then wiping them on our jeans! You’d be standing there all day with your hands beneath those old fashions dryers if you actually wanted them dry.

  4. Hilarious, and so true! Better than those though- the nasty cloth roll hand towels! I was always convinced that you just got the same rolled 14″ of grimy, germ- ridden towel recycled over and over. Well, you really did when it broke down. Such a sanitary joy that was. The turbo-dyers are pretty cool, and who needs skin, really?

    1. Thanks – and you know I’ve never seen those nasty cloth roll hand towels in person; only in the movies. It was “Punchline,” with Tom Hanks and Sally Field. Tom Hanks is a comedian and uses the nasty cloth roll on his armpits in between sets, and I thought I was going to throw up. I’m glad that the turbo dryers are here to save the day.

  5. If you spot one of these old crappy, energy guzzling hand dryers anywhere in the UK we will collect and recycle it according to the WEEE directive and give you cash back. It’s out aim to rid the UK of these dreadful things and help reduce the nations carbon emissions!

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