Omnia Mechanical Group

571 Timpson Place Bronx, NY 10455

Phone: 212-534-2500

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All About the Invention of the Dishwasher

The dishwasher saves time and improves hygienic cleaning, and modern designs reduce water usage and improve energy efficiency. The invention of the dishwasher did not occur overnight; it is an engineering feat that underwent several iterations, building off the ingenious work of several inventors. Discover who invented the dishwasher and how it developed into the modern kitchen necessity it is.

The Invention of the Dishwasher: Early Iterations to Modern Marvel

Joel Houghton’s Hand-Cranked Device

In 1850, Joel Houghton, an inventor, secured the first U.S. patent for a device specifically designed for dishwashing. The invention provided the foundational work for what would eventually inspire the creation of the modern dishwasher, and it represents the earliest recorded attempt to mechanize a tedious household task.

Houghton’s design used a hand-cranked mechanism in a wooden box. The crank turned a wheel that splashed water on dirty dishes. It also had scrubbers for dislodging food residue. While applicable, the design didn’t ease the task of washing dishes. Houghton’s device relied on manual power, and users considered it labor-intensive.

While his design stemmed from a positive place — witnessing the struggles of servants in larger households — it was impractical and failed to reduce the time and effort put into domestic chores. Still, Houghton’s efforts were not in vain because they inspired several future inventors, eventually leading to the invention of the dishwasher.

L.A. Alexander’s Geared Improvement

L.A. Alexander, an inventor in the 1860s, holds an 1865 U.S. patent for an improved dishwasher design. While his work highlights a crucial step in the evolution of the dishwasher design, the inventor himself remains somewhat of an enigma. Still, a close reading of his patent offers insight into the design improvements over Houghton’s hand-cranked option.

Alexander introduced a gear system that aimed to automate the rotation of dishes within a washing container and compensate for some of the inefficiencies of Houghton’s earlier design. With the gear system, Alexander hoped the design would reduce manual labor and increase the force of the water spray.

Unfortunately, while a minor improvement over Houghton’s design, Alexander’s dishwasher still lacked the practicality to achieve widespread success. In the 1860s, mechanical devices for the home were still somewhat uncommon and viewed with skepticism. Beyond public apprehension, Alexander’s gear design was somewhat complex, creating cost barriers that made the design inaccessible to most households.

Josephine Cochrane’s Determination

The invention of the dishwasher belongs to Josephine Cochrane, a wealthy socialite with a family background in engineering. While she was not the first to envision it, her design broke new ground and led to the first commercially successful dishwasher.

Unlike Houghton, Cochrane wanted to do more than simply reduce menial labor. As a socialite, she frequently hosted dinner parties where she insisted on using fine china. Unfortunately, the dinnerware became chipped during cleaning, sparking frustration and motivating her to find a better way to do the dishes.

Unlike earlier iterations, Cochrane’s design, patented on December 28, 1886, used a boiler and pump to create hot, soapy water jets, making it the first design to use water pressure. She used built-in compartments to prevent breakage and ensure complete coverage of the dishes during the washing cycle.

Unlike Houghton and Alexander, Cochrane actively sought commercial success. She formed her own company and promoted her invention at the 1893 Word’s Fair. Even after the fair, she persistently marketed to hotels and restaurants. Cochrane continued to tweak her design and received a second posthumous patent in 1917.

William Howard Livens’ More Practical Design

In the quest to determine who invented the dishwasher, Josephine Cochrane receives credit for the first commercially viable dishwasher. Still, William Howard Livens, a British engineer and WWI military inventor, brought the concept closer to household adoption.

The invention of the dishwasher evolved during the 1920s with the rise of consumerism and the growing demand for time-saving domestic appliances. Livens had a successful engineering background and acquired a patent in 1924 for his dishwasher design, which was significantly smaller than Cochrane’s and intended for domestic use.

Livens’ design used front-loading to improve accessibility and wire racks to secure dishes, likely inspired by Cochrane’s designs. The rotating sprayer that ensured a more thorough cleaning was a significant improvement to the dishwasher design.

Livens’ dishwasher was still expensive; however, because of the smaller size and more effective design, his design was more attainable and practical for middle-class families. The changes in the design were necessary for eventual widespread adoption.

The Modern Dishwasher: A Kitchen Necessity

Energy Efficiency and Design Variation

Following World War II, rising affluence gave rise to domestic conveniences and appliance adoptions. Technological and manufacturing improvements reduced the costs of dishwashers, allowing more people to take advantage of the convenience.

Into the 1970s and beyond, the U.S. and other countries began pushing energy efficiency mandates, improving the invention of the dishwasher with water distribution and heating features in appliances. Companies also began toying with design variations, like portable, countertops, and built-in dishwashers, to suit the diverse needs of the marketplace.

Maintenance and Best Practices

While the dishwasher helps reduce manual and menial labor, it still requires maintenance and care. At least once per month, you should perform routine maintenance:

  • Clean the filter
  • Wipe down the interior
  • Inspect the spray arms
  • Run an empty cycle with a cup of white vinegar

To get the most out of your dishwasher, you must prepare the dishes and load the appliance correctly. Although modern dishwashers can handle some food residue, you still need to scrape large food chunks into the trash — don’t use the sink unless you have a garbage disposal — before putting the dishes in the appliance. Don’t overpack the dishwasher; leave a little space between dishes to allow water to get through.

Beyond the Invention of the Dishwasher: Maintaining Modern Devices

How Sanitary Plumbing Can Help With Your Plumbing Appliances

Since the invention of the dishwasher, many changes have all aimed at improving the device for modern convenience. Despite the improvements in efficiency and affordability, dishwashers are still mechanical appliances that require professional cleaning and regular maintenance. Call Sanitary Plumbing at (212) 734-5000 to learn more about maintenance schedules and to request a property inspection.


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