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Josephine Cochrane

inventor of the automatic dishwashing machine

Josephine Cochrane

Josephine Garis was born in Ashtabula County, Ohio, on March 8, 1839. Her father, John Garis, was a hydraulic engineer, and her mother, Irene Fitch, was the granddaughter of steamboat inventor John Fitch. After her mother died and her sister moved out, Josephine lived with her father in Ohio and Indiana. She attended a private high school, but when it burned down, Garis sent his daughter off to live with her sister (Irene Garis Ransom) in Shelbyville, Illinois. On October 13, 1858, Josephine married William A. Cochran, a successful dry goods merchant. Although she followed societal norms by taking her husband's last name, she preferred to spell it with an "e" at the end.

In 1870 the Cochrans moved into what in the day was considered a mansion, complete with servants. In keeping with their social status, the Cochrans hosted a number of dinner parties, often using china that Josephine claimed dated back to the 1600's. Unhappy that her servants tended to be careless with her heirloom china when they washed it, she decided to wash the dishes herself. After spending a number of mornings washing dishes by hand, she decided that there had to be a machine that could do the work for her. When she couldn't find such a machine, she decided to design one herself.

Exactly when Josephine began trying to come up with a dishwashing machine isn't clear, but it is known that it became a priority for her after William died in 1883. Despite having lived a rich lifestyle, William left Josephine with very little cash and a mound of debt, and her concept went from being a hobby to a means of potentially earning income.

Believing that water jets offered the best means for cleaning dishes, Cochrane enlisted help from Illinois Central Railroad mechanic George Butters, and the two came up with the Garis-Cochran Dish-Washing Machine, which was granted a patent on December 28, 1886. Though powered by a hand-crank, the design was similar in principle to present-day electric dishwashers, sending jets of soapy water onto dishes held in wire racks inside a watertight metal box. For rinsing, the user poured water over the rack of clean but soapy dishes. Later models were powered by a steam engine, and added a self-rinse cycle.

Although Cochrane intended her dishwashing machine to be used in homes, she only succeeded in selling it to hotels, beginning with the Palmer House in Chicago, Illinois. In 1893, she convinced 9 restaurants and pavilions at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago to use her invention, and it was an exhibit in Machinery Hall, where it won first pace for "best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work"  That success led to her opening a factory (she had been using contracted labor to build machines to order), and before long her customer base had extended to hospitals and colleges.

Josephine Cochrane died in Chicago on August 3, 1913, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Shelbyville. Her company was subsequently bought by Hobart, which later became KitchenAid and is now the Whirlpool Corporation.


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See Also

John Fitch
World's Columbian Exposition

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The Robinson Library >> Mechanical Engineering >> Biography

This page was last updated on December 28, 2018.