Mothers of Invention: Josephine Cochrane and the Dishwasher

When you’re a fancy socialite and the servants keep breaking your fine china while washing it, you can either hire better help, or you can invent a machine to do the job right. Josephine Cochrane chose the latter.

Mothers of Invention Josephine Cochrane

I’ll Do it Myself!

The daughter of an engineer and granddaughter of an inventor, Josephine Cochrane lived in a small Illinois town 200 miles south of Chicago. Legend has it, she once proclaimed, “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself!” and went to the shed behind her home to begin her work.

With no formal training in engineering, she hired mechanic George Butters to help bring her vision to life. After years of perfecting her dishwashing machine, she eventually founded the Garis-Cochrane Manufacturing Company in 1886, a company that still today shares some distant corporate DNA with Whirlpool.

Taking it to the Fair

Before Josephine’s, there were two prior recognized attempts to develop dishwashing machines. One creation in 1850 resulted in a clunky contraption cranked by hand that merely soaked the dishes. Another added racks and spun the dishes through a tub of water.

Then, in 1893 at the Chicago’s World Fair, Josephine shared her revolutionary machine with the world. The exposition was known for premiering many significant inventions including early moving pictures, the Ferris Wheel, and Westinghouse Electric who powered the entire fair. But the winner of “best mechanical construction, durability, and adaptation to its line of work” went to Josephine’s “Lavadora” dishwashing machine.

Under Pressure

The Cochrane dishwasher was notably the first to use water pressure to clean dishes. Josephine’s design was made of wire compartments specifically-sized for plates and cups. These compartments sat within an open wheel that laid flat in a copper boiler. As a motor turned the wheel, hot soapy water shot up from the bottom then rained back down on the dishes.

dishwasher domestic model
Source: USPTO

By 1897, her company was known as Cochrane’s Crescent Washing Machine Company and sold mostly to commercial customers. Restaurants and hotels were eager to adopt this new invention, which was one of many to come from The Gilded Age

The 20th Century and Cochrane’s Legacy

In 1886, the United States granted Josephine a patent, but her work wasn’t done. She continued improving on her invention and was given a second patent posthumously in 1917. Nine years later, the Crescent Dishwashing Company was sold to the company that made the KitchenAid appliances before becoming a part of Whirlpool.

patent 355139
Source: USPTO

Although she didn’t receive much acclaim during her lifetime, Josephine is now remembered as one of the great women inventors to come from the early Industrial Era. In 2006, she was even inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

It is believed her death in 1913 was brought on by exhaustion from her unrelenting dedication to her work. Prior to her passing she was quoted as saying, “If I knew all I know today when I began to put the dishwasher on the market, I never would have had the courage to start. But then, I would have missed a very wonderful experience.”

We find the process of inventing tremendously rewarding. The history of Custom Powder Systems is full of inspiring moments leading to thrilling solutions. Just as Josephine Cochrane solved the tedium of dishwashing, can we invent something that will make your company run better and more efficiently? Contact us today and let us know. All images sourced from USPTO.

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