On December 28, 1886, Josephine G. Cochrane was granted the patent for “Dish Washing Machine”, U.S. Patent No. 355,139.

Josephine G. Cochrane was born on March 8, 1839, in Ashtabula County, Ohio. She lived with her father who was a supervisor at a mill as a hydraulic engineer. After graduating high school, Josephine married William Cochran at the age of 19. Josephine took her husband’s name but put an “e” on the end of it as she was known for her independent nature.  The Cochrans hosted many dinner parties as William became an affluent, dry goods merchant, investor, and politician who started to rise in the ranks of the Democratic Party.

Cochrane inherited heirloom china that purportedly dated back to the 1600s. After dinner parties, the couple had servants that cleaned up and washed the dishes. After a party, one of the servants accidentally chipped some of the dishes. Angry, Cochrane refused to let the servants handle the china and she washed the dishes instead. Cochrane abhorred this task and thought there had to be an easier way to do this, there are machines for all sorts of things, why not one for dishes.  She began to think of a machine that could wash the dishes for her. She said, “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself.”

In 1883, William Cochran died and left Josephine with a large sum of debt and only $1,535 to her name. Her invention was no longer just a dream but a way to survive financially. She worked relentlessly on her dishwater and the final product had wire compartments in the shape of a wheel where dishes such as silverware, plates, cups, and saucers were placed. A motor turned the wheel and covered the dishes with hot soap from the bottom of a copper boiler.

Cochrane began to share her design and sought the advice of men who, during the late 1800s, had more experience with mechanics than women. Cochrane said, “[t]hey knew I knew nothing, academically, about mechanics, and they insisted on having their own way with my invention until they convinced themselves my way was the better, no matter how I had arrived at it.”

After being steadfast with her invention, Cochrane took her dishwasher to hotels selling the first one to the Palmer House hotel in Chicago. Pleased with her first sale, she knew she would need to sell more but the thought of selling to prominent businessmen was intimidating. When interviewed by a reporter Cochrane said,

You asked me what was the hardest part of getting into business, I think, crossing the great lobby of the Sherman House alone. You cannot imagine what it was like in those days … for a woman to cross a hotel lobby alone. I had never been anywhere without my husband or father —the lobby seemed a mile wide. I thought I should faint at every step, but I didn’t—and I got an $800 order as my reward.

She continued to sell her dishwashers, maneuvering her way into restaurants, hospitals, and colleges. Her success allowed her to open her own factory, the Garis-Cochran Manufacturing Company, in an abandoned schoolhouse. She continued to personally sell her dishwashers until her death in 1913. Her company was bought by Hobart which, was later purchased by KitchenAid®, who owns the registrations to Cochrane’s patents and trademarks. KitchenAid was bought out and is now the Whirlpool Corporation.

The automatic dishwasher is now a staple in homes across the country. Every time you load the dishwasher and don’t have to hand wash dirty dishes you can thank Josephine Cochrane.

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