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Photo: Universal Appliance & Kitchen Center

The mechanical dishwasher as a practical device emerged not from convenience but from annoyance when a wealthy woman in downstate Shelbyville got tired of servants breaking her dishes after fancy dinner parties.

The invention of the Dishwasher

In 1850, Joel Houghton patented a wooden machine with a hand-turned wheel that splashed water on dishes. It was hardly a workable machine, but it was the first patent. Then, in the 1860s, L. A. Alexander improved the device with a geared mechanism that allowed the user to spin racked dishes through a tub of water. Neither of these devices was particularly effective, as said by ThoughtCo.

In 1886, Cochran proclaimed in disgust, "If nobody else is going to invent the dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself." And she did. Cochran invented the first practical dishwasher. She designed the first model in the shed behind her house in Shelbyville, Illinois. Her dishwasher was the first to use water pressure instead of scrubbers to clean the dishes. She received a patent on December 28, 1886.

Features of Josephine's Dishwashing Invention

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Photo: United States Patent and Trademark Office

When Cochrane built the first automated dishwasher, it had a copper boiler, which contained a wooden wheel. The motor could be powered or driven by hand via a pulley. Accordingly, dishes were fitted in framed wired compartments, spun, and sprayed with soapy water, Deweese Appliance cites.

A New Dishwashing Invention

Modern-day dishwashers are more efficient and technologically advanced. They do not look like earlier inventions; in fact, they closely resemble a dishwasher invented in 1924. It had a rotating sprayer and rack system, just like modern dishwasher machines. However, the 1924 invention lacked proper design features like indoor plumbing and meant that only wealthy people could afford it.

How has the Invention Changed the World?

Dishwashers remained a luxury item until the 1950s. American families began using the dishwasher as a necessary item in the 1970s. A majority of Americans (75%) now own a dishwasher. Moreover, a modern dishwasher is easier to use. They come with pre-soak cycles, removable trays, racks and better rotating sprayers. The new dishwashers are remarkable inventions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's US Department of Energy, newer dishwashers save water and energy, which saves our natural resources. Finally, they have truly changed the way we design kitchens and the design of modern homes.

Biography of Josephine Cochran

Cochran was born to John Garis, a civil engineer, and Irene Fitch Garis. She had one sister, Irene Garis Ransom. As mentioned above, her grandfather John Fitch (father of her mother Irene) was an inventor who was awarded a steamboat patent. She was raised in Valparaiso, Indiana, where she went to private school until the school burned down.

After moving in with her sister in Shelbyville, Illinois, she married William Cochran on October 13, 1858, who returned the year before from a disappointing try at the California Gold Rush and went on to become a prosperous dry goods merchant and Democratic Party, politician. They had two children, a son Hallie Cochran who died at age 2, and a daughter Katharine Cochran.

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Photo: ThoughtCo

In 1870, they moved into a mansion and began throwing dinner parties using heirloom china allegedly dating from the 1600s. After one event, the servants carelessly chipped some of the dishes, causing Josephine Cochran to find a better alternative. She also wanted to relieve tired housewives from the duty of washing dishes after a meal. She is said to have run through the streets screaming with blood in her eyes, "If nobody else is going to invent the dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself!"

Her alcoholic husband died in 1883 when she was 45 years old, leaving her with numerous debts and very little cash, which motivated her to go through with developing the dishwasher. Her friends loved her invention and had her make dishwashing machines for them, calling them "Cochrane Dishwashers," later founding the Garis-Cochran Manufacturing Company.

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