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This Week in Illinois History: Josephine Cochrane patents the dishwasher (December 28, 1886)

Josephine Cochrane
Josephine Cochrane, inventor of the dishwasher

When you clean up after your holiday parties, pause to thank Illinoisan Josephine Cochrane for making your life a lot easier. On December 28, 1886, Cochrane patented her life-changing invention, the dishwasher.

Cochrane was born Josephine Garris on March 8, 1839 in Ohio. She moved to Shelbyville, Illinois, where she met her husband, William Cochrane, a prosperous merchant. When his business and political aspirations took off, the Cochranes became socialites, built a mansion and frequently hosted parties.

Cochrane noticed that her heirloom china became chipped by frequent handwashing. She vowed to invent a better, safer and faster way to clean her dishes.

In 1883, her tinkering turned to desperation when her husband suddenly died, leaving her in debt and with little money. She sketched several blueprints and, with the help of a local mechanic, created a working model in her shed. She was not the first person to patent a dishwasher, but hers was the first to rely on heat and water pressure, which is how dishwashers still operate today.

Cochrane founded the Garis-Cochran Manufacturing Company. Her machines were too expensive for the average family, but she found success selling her dishwashers to Chicago hotels and restaurants. She put her invention on display at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where she won the prize for "best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work."

An ad for Josephine Cochrane's dishwashing company

Cochrane died in 1913 and never saw her invention widely adopted in American homes. However, her company was acquired by KitchenAid, which introduced its wildly popular home dishwasher, based on Cochrane’s design, in 1949.

Clint Cargile is the host of This Week in Illinois History and the creator and host of the podcast Drinkin’ with Lincoln.
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