Josephine Cochran and the Invention of the Dishwasher

Josephine Cochrane

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Josephine Cochran, whose grandfather was also an inventor and was awarded a steamboat patent, is best known as the inventor of the dishwasher. But the history of the appliance goes back a little further. Learn more about how the dishwasher came to be and Josephine Cochran's role in its development. 

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.

In 1886, Cochran proclaimed in disgust, "If nobody else is going to invent a dish washing 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.

Cochran had expected the public to welcome the new invention, which she unveiled at the 1893 World's Fair, but only hotels and large restaurants were buying her ideas. It was not until the 1950s that dishwashers caught on with the general public.

Cochran's machine was a hand-operated mechanical dishwasher. She founded a company to manufacture these dishwashers, which eventually became KitchenAid.

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.

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 a dish washing 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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Bellis, Mary. "Josephine Cochran and the Invention of the Dishwasher." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 28). Josephine Cochran and the Invention of the Dishwasher. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Josephine Cochran and the Invention of the Dishwasher." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).