The dishwashing machine – an invention from 1886


Josephine Cochran as a young woman.

To protect her fine china and avoid having to hand-wash them herself, Josephine Cochran set out to invent a better dishwashing machine. Widowed early in this effort, she worked tirelessly to build a successful prototype, sell her invention, and ultimately turn a tedious task into an iconic American appliance.

World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was organized in part to celebrate the voyage of Christopher Columbus four hundred years earlier, but also, and more importantly, to highlight the industrial prowess and ingenuity of a confident young nation.

Into this strange-looking contraption of gears, belts, and pulleys would vanish a cage full of over 200 dirty dishes, only to reappear two minutes later as clean as if they had been hand-washed. Called the Garis-Cochran Dishwashing Machine, it was the only invention on display invented by a woman, and there were nine others just like it being used in the exposition’s many restaurants, from the Big Kitchen to the New England Clam Bake.

The exposition’s judges were so impressed with the dishwashing machine that they awarded it the highest prize for “best mechanical construction, durability, and adaptation to its line of work.” It was just the kind of break the machine’s inventor, a widowed entrepreneur named Josephine G. Cochran, needed.

Born March 8, 1839 in Ashtabula County, Ohio, Josephine was the daughter and granddaughter of inventors and engineers. Her maternal grandfather, a Revolutionary War veteran named John Fitch, invented the first patented steamboat in the United States, and her father, John Garis, was a civil engineer who supervised a number of woolen mills, sawmills, and gristmills along the Ohio River. When faced with a problem, Josephine was by nature and upbringing determined to find a technological solution—and if one didn’t exist, to invent it.

Josephine filed her first patent application on New Year’s Eve, 1885, as “J.G. Cochran.” That next year, with the aid of a young mechanic named George Butters, she set to work in a woodshed behind her home bringing the first prototype to life. Although she was not the first to invent a dishwashing machine, hers was the first to use water pressure rather than scrubbers to clean the dishes, and it had racks specifically fitted to hold the dishes in place. Previous washing machines required the user to pour boiling water over the dishes.

Just after Christmas, 1886, Josephine received U.S. patent no. 355,139 for her invention “Dish Washing Machine.”


Josephine received a second, posthumous patent in 1917 for an improved version of her dishwashing machine. In 1923, the Crescent Dishwashing Company she had founded and led received a trademark for their distinctive half-moon logo.

Josephine Garis Cochran was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.

More at: USPTO

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