Josephine Cochrane

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Stamp of Romania, 2013

Josephine Garis Cochran (Cochrane) (March 8, 1839 in Ashtabula County, Ohio - August 14, 1913 in Chicago, Illinois) was the inventor of the first commercially successful automatic dishwasher, which she constructed together with mechanic George Butters.[1]


Early life[edit]

Cochran was the daughter of John Garis, a civil engineer, and Irene Fitch Garis. She had one sister, Irene Garis Ransom.[2] Her grandfather John Fitch (father of her mother Irene) was an inventor who was awarded a steamboat patent. She was raised in Valparaiso, Indiana, where she went to private school until the school burnt down.

Marriage and children[edit]

After moving in with her sister in Shelbyville, Illinois, she married William Cochran on October 13, 1858, who returned the year before from a disappointing try at the California Gold Rush, and went on to become a prosperous dry goods merchant and Democratic Party politician.[3][4]

  • Hallie Cochran (birthdate – death) Hallie was the son of William and Josephine Cochran. He died at the age of two.
  • Katharine Cochran (birthdate – death) Katharine Cochran was the daughter of William and Josephine Cochran.[5]

In 1870 they moved into a mansion, and began throwing dinner parties using heirloom china allegedly dating from the 1600s. After one event, the servants carelessly chipped some of the dishes, causing her to search for a safer alternative.[6] She also wanted to relieve tired housewives from the duty of washing dishes after a meal.[7] She is said to have run through the streets screaming with blood in her eyes,"If nobody else is going to invent a dish washing machine, I'll do it myself!"

Her alcoholic husband died in 1883 when she was 45 years old, leaving her with a pile of debts and only $1,535.59 in cash, which motivated her to go through with developing the dishwasher. She kept William's last name but added the "e" after his death.

Her friends were very impressed with her invention and had her make dishwashing machines for them, calling them "Cochrane Dishwashers", later founding the Garis-Cochran Manufacturing Company.

Death and recognition[edit]

Josephine died of a stroke or exhaustion in Chicago, Illinois, on August 14, 1913, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Shelbyville, Illinois.[8] In 2006 she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.[9]

Cochrane's dishwasher[edit]

Other attempts had been made to produce a commercially viable dishwasher. In 1850 Joel Houghton designed a hand-cranked dish soaker.[10] In the 1860s L. A. Alexander improved on the device with a geared mechanism that allowed the user to spin racked dishes through a tub of water. Neither of these devices was particularly effective.[11]

Cochrane designed the first model of her dishwasher in the shed behind her house located in Shelbyville, Illinois. George Butters was a mechanic who assisted her in the construction of the first dishwasher; he was also an employee at the first dishwasher factory. To build the machine, she first measured the dishes and built wire compartments, each specially designed to fit either plates, cups, or saucers. The compartments were placed inside a wheel that lay flat inside a copper boiler. A motor turned the wheel while hot soapy water squirted up from the bottom of the boiler and rained down on the dishes. Her dishwasher was the first to use water pressure instead of scrubbers to clean the dishes inside the machine.[12] After receiving a patent on December 28, 1886[13] she showed her invention at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and won the highest prize for "best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work". The word spread, and soon Cochrane was getting orders for her dishwashing machine from restaurants and hotels in Illinois. The factory business, Garis-Cochran, began production in 1897.

It wasn't until the 1950s that dishwashers became a common household item after new suburban homes were built with the plumbing required to handle the extra hot water.[14]


  1. ^ David John Cole; Eve Browning; Fred E. H. Schroeder (2003). Encyclopedia of Modern Everyday Inventions. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 100–. ISBN 978-0-313-31345-5. 
  2. ^ "NNBD tracking the entire world". Josephine Cochrane. Soylent Communications. 2014. Retrieved 5 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Forgotten Newsmakers: JOSEPHINE COCHRANE (1839-1913) Invented the Dishwasher
  4. ^ John, Lienhard (1999). "Engines of our Enginuity". Inventing the Dishwasher. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  5. ^ "NNBD tracking the entire world". 
  6. ^ Ed Sobey (1 April 2010). The Way Kitchens Work: The Science Behind the Microwave, Teflon Pan, Garbage Disposal, and More. Chicago Review Press. pp. 41–. ISBN 978-1-61374-307-2. 
  7. ^ "Inventing the Dishwasher". Parts Select. Eldis Group Partnership. 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2015. 
  8. ^ "Cook's Info". Cook's Info. 1998. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "Spotlight | National Inventors Hall of Fame". 2013-11-21. Retrieved 2016-05-29. 
  10. ^ Mary Ellen Snodgrass (29 December 2004). Encyclopedia of Kitchen History. Routledge. pp. 320–. ISBN 978-1-135-45572-9. 
  11. ^ Hilpirn, Kate (2010-10-29). "The Secret History of: The Dishwasher". The Independent. The Independent. Retrieved 2014-05-06. 
  12. ^ Johanna, Brenner. "Portland's Walk of the Heroines". Portland's Walk of the Heroines. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  13. ^ US Patent No. 355139A: Dish-washing machine
  14. ^ "Lemelson-MIT". Josephine Cochrane. Lemelson-MIT Program. Retrieved 5 April 2015.