“If nobody else is going to invent a dish washing machine, I’ll do it myself!”

Josephine Cochrane

Motive oftentimes matters to inventors.

There are two origin stories about the invention of the dishwasher by self-described socialite Josephine Cochrane.

In one version she is a wealthy socialite. Tired of servants nicking her dishes she wanted to free ordinary women from housework.

In another more realistic version, she is financially overextended. Her alcoholic husband died at age 45 leaving her flat-broke.

Whichever the reason, dishwashing has never been the same since she came up with a system that sprays water on dishes that rest in a rack.

Her company, Cochrane’s Crescent Washing Machine Company, was a hit at the 1893 World’s Fair.

Successor companies added electric motors and popularized the innovation, but Cochrane’s machine was the first dishwasher to work as advertised. KitchenAid eventually acquired her company.

She did earn a living from her machine though others made the bulk of the income with improved machines. Interesting factoid: Cochrane is the great-granddaughter of steamboat inventor John Fitch. He also failed to meaningfully profit from his invention.

Early dishwashers were extremely expensive. Until the 1960s hiring a maid cost less than buying a dishwasher. During Cochrane’s time, and for decades after, they were marketed as a machine to wash dishes less likely to cause damage than hand washing.

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