This Time-Saving Patent Paved the Way for the Modern Dishwasher

While hand washing the dishes has its upsides–it’s a meditative pastime that sometimes saves water–anyone who does it regularly can tell you it has its downsides too. For one thing, slippery plates sometimes get dropped and broken, ruining the symmetry of your four-serving set. For another, it can be time-consuming.

These discomforts are as old as dishes themselves. But on this day in 1886, an Illinois woman named Josephine Garis Cochran received a patent that went some way to addressing her specific problems. “Cochran, a wealthy woman who entertained often, wanted a machine that could wash dishes faster than her servants, and without breaking them,” writes the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Although some dishwashers had already been invented, none of them were commercially viable, so none were available to her. Undaunted, “she measured the dishes first, then she made wire compartments, each designed to fit plates, cups, or saucers,” writes the USPTO. According to her patent, the racks fit into a flat wheel sitting inside a boiler. “A motor turned the wheel while hot soapy water squirted from the bottom of the boiler and rained down on the dishes,” the patent office writes.

This invention worked. And the dishwasher was Cochran’s ticket out of poverty. While she had lived well when Mr. Cochran was alive, he died shortly after she began to work on her invention, leaving her with his significant debts and only about $1500 in cash, according to historian John H. Lienhard. She got to work in the same shed beside her house where she’d done the original inventing, this time to produce the machine for others.

Source Smithsonian

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