The Institute - March 2021 - TI-13


he dishwasher, a popular
appliance in kitchens around
the world, has gone through a
number of iterations throughout its 170-year history.
The first dishwasher to be granted
a patent was invented in 1850 by Joel
Houghton. It was a wooden box that
used a hand-turned wheel to splash water
on dirty dishes, and it had scrubbers.
Ten years later, inventor L.A. Alexander improved on Houghton's machine
by adding a " geared mechanism that
allowed the user to spin racked dishes
through a tub of water, " according to an
entry on reference website ThoughtCo.
But the person we have to thank for
the modern-day dishwasher is Josephine
Cochran (sometimes spelled Cochrane).
Her machine was the first to use water
pressure instead of scrubbers to clean
dishes-which made it more efficient than
Houghton's or Alexander's versions. For
Cochran's invention, she was inducted
into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of
Fame in 2006.
Her technical achievement is worthy of
being named an IEEE Milestone, according to the IEEE History Center, but no one
has proposed it yet. The Milestone program honors significant achievements
in the history of electrical and electronics engineering.



Cochran's dishwashing woes began after
she married wealthy merchant William
Cochran in 1858. As a socialite, she was
expected to hold frequent dinner parties.
She served the meals on her expensive,
heirloom china. When the household
staff hand-washed the dishes, the delicate china often got chipped. She opted
to wash the dishes herself, but after she
damaged many a plate, she decided to
design and build a machine that could
handle the task-faster and more carefully.

According to a profile of Cochran on
the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
website, she vowed: " If nobody else is
going to invent a [mechanical] dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself. "
Although she had no technical background, she came from a family of engineers and inventors. Her father, John
Garis, was a civil engineer who supervised a number of mills near the Ohio
River in Illinois. Her great-grandfather
John Fitch invented the first steamboat
to be granted a U.S. patent.
She designed her first model in the
shed behind her house in Shelbyville,
Ill. Her lack of formal engineering education, however, became an obstacle, so
she sought out someone who could help.
Mechanic George Butters agreed to assist
her in building the prototype.
To make the machine wash dishes efficiently, Cochran measured the width,
height, and length of plates, cups, and
saucers and constructed wire compartments for the china to sit in. The compartments separated each piece of dishware.
At the bottom of the machine was a container that held soap. The compartments
were placed inside a wheel that laid flat
within a copper boiler, according to
the Lemelson-MIT program's profile of
Cochran. A motor powered the wheel,
which turned as soapy water was squirted
on the dishes to clean them.
Cochran was granted a U.S. patent in
1886 for her machine, which she named
the Cochran dishwasher.
She advertised her invention in local
newspapers and built the machines for
friends and family.

her connect with not only restaurants
and hotels interested in buying her dishwasher but also with investors.
Many potential investors asked
Cochran to resign, however, so the company could be sold to a man, according
to the Patent and Trademark Office article. She refused and continued to fund
the business herself.
To increase sales, Cochran displayed
her machine at the 1893 Chicago World's
Fair, where she won an award for the
machine's design and durability. Thanks
to that visibility, orders came pouring
in and she was able to open a manufacturing facility near Chicago.
Her dishwashers became popular with
the hospitality industry, but it wasn't
until the 1950s that dishwashers caught
on with the public.
" Some homemakers admitted that they
enjoyed washing dishes by hand, and
the machines reportedly left a soapy
residue on the dishes, " the LemelsonMIT article says.
Many homes built before the 1950s
used a furnace to heat water, and not
all furnaces at the time could produce
enough hot water to run a dishwasher.
Thanks to changing attitudes about
technology and housework, though, the
dishwasher's popularity grew over time.
Cochran never saw her machines
become sought-after household appliances. She died in 1913. In 1926 her company was acquired by KitchenAid, now
a part of Whirlpool.
Any IEEE member can submit a milestone proposal to the IEEE History Center. The center is funded by donations
to the IEEE Foundation.



To expand the market for her machine,
she founded Garis-Cochran Manufacturing in the early 1890s in Shelbyville. The
business was renamed Cochran's Crescent
Washing Machine Co. in 1897. It helped

This article originally appeared online
as " This Socialite Hated Washing Dishes
So Much That She Invented the
Automated Dishwasher. "



MAR 2021



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