I clearly remember the day I purchased my dishwasher. I felt like I’d passed a milestone and become an adult. I had a proper grown-up kitchen appliance, not counting that slightly-pureeing Tri-Star ‘blender’ I had unwisely selected from a Christmas gift catalogue a few years ago. I could now buy those little coloured solid blocks of dishwasher detergent. I could now shove filthy dishes in my shiny new magic box and forget about them. Dirty dishes would never again blight my counter for
days on end, marmite would never be welded indefinitely onto plates and I would never have to destroy colonies of mould-in-tea-cups with bleach ever again.
As I listened to its efficient hum one day, I started to wonder how long dishwashers have been around. Yeah, I do need to get out more often. Anyway, I was surprised to learn that the first one had been patented way back in 1850, but the ‘modern’ dishwasher evolved from a patent submitted in 1887 by Josephine Cochrane. Ms Cochrane did not invent the machine to save herself from the boring chore of washing up. She did so because she was fed up with her maid breaking her favourite china after extensive tea-parties. No one was interested in her device at first, mainly because hardly anyone had the water heaters required to run it, and those that did generally had more than enough money to not really care about how much china was being broken in their kitchen.
Shrewdly, Ms Cochrane began to approach hotels and restaurants and, encouraged by the fact that one machine could do the job that several people were being paid to do, her invention took off. The dishwasher began to gain popularity in private households several decades later, when women began to work outside the home. By 1970, dishwashers were commonplace in American homes. And, if you’ve ever been frustrated by the weird rack configurations and the mind-boggling challenge that is
getting all your dishes and pots and pans to fit without obstructing the rotating bits, it’s because the design of the racks hasn’t changed since the 1950s.
So how do they work? I always thought a dishwasher was basically a metal box attached to a hose pipe and a sprinkler system aided by some pretty strong chemicals. And whaddaya know? I was pretty much right.
Things you shouldn’t put in a dishwasher
Never put lead crystal in a dishwasher: detergent can change the lead into a soluble form. Aluminium will discolour, and sterling silver and pewter will oxidize and warp from the heat. Cast iron will rust, plastic will melt and chemicals and heat may have a detrimental effect on non-stick surfaces. Someone remind me, what’s the point of having a dishwasher again?
Random bonus information
The dishwasher was invited by a clever woman. Here are some other random things invented by women:
- The circular saw: Tabitha Babbitt, 1810
- The Compiler (translates English commands into computer code) and Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL) Computer Language: Grace Murray Hopper , 1940-50
- Windshield wiper, Mary Anderson 1903
- Kevlar, the steel-like fibre used in bulletproof vests, Stephanie Kwolek, 1996