Who would have imagined that the history of the dishwasher began so humbly? A whole generation of people exist who know nothing of hand washing the dishes; even fewer people know the story of the hand-cranked wooden box that inspired Josephine Cochrane to invent the first practical dishwasher.
The Rough Drafts
In the mid 1800s, two men, on separate occasions, invented and patented rather primitive attempts to simplify dish washing. The first man, Joel Houghton, created a wooden machine with a hand crank that merely splashed water onto dirty dishes. The second attempt was by a man named L.A. Alexander whose machine simply spun dishes through water. It too was cranked by hand. Neither machine did much in the way of cleaning the dirty dishes.
An Inspired Woman
In 1886, heiress and granddaughter of the man who invented the steamboat, Josephine Cochrane piloted yet another hand-cranked machine. Tired of all of her fine china plates being chipped and cracked by careless servants, she decided to invent a machine to wash the dishes. Though small in size, this new dishwasher was actually useful. As electricity was not a household commodity, her machine was only bought by large restaurants and hotels until she founded what is known today KitchenAid to manufacture her new dishwashers.
A Household Necessity
As plumbing technologies advanced in the 1920s, new methods were developed to keep dishwashers hooked up to a steady water supply. These bulky and expensive machines were still primarily used commercially. Throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s additional features, such as an electric drying capability and reduction in size, made dishwashers an affordable commodity that quickly became a common household accessory.
Dishwashers have come a long way since the crude, hand-cranked versions. With everything from sterilization to heated drying, Josephine would be proud to see a cycle specifically for her fine china.