Full Circle: You love Josephine Cochran but don’t know why

Published 7:01 am Saturday, June 29, 2019

Privileged women the world over should fall to their knees in obeisance to the obscure Josephine Cochran for who among us would argue that it was she who changed our lives for the better?  Born to a visionary grandfather—the inventor of the steamboat—Josephine’s thinking was molded into a scientific mindset from a young age.

In 1858, Josephine married William Cochran who had just returned the year before from a disheartening failed attempt at striking it rich in the California Goldrush. His next business venture, however, turned out to be successful whereupon he blossomed into a prosperous dry goods merchant.  Following this triumph, Will continued his climb upward, becoming a noted politician in the Democratic Party.

This naturally put pressure on Josephine because attaining such an auspicious level in society required that she host lavish dinner parties in their sumptuous new mansion.  There she set her magnificent dining table with her family’s precious heirloom china, some of it dating as far back as 250 years.

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After one such event, a careless servant accidentally chipped some of the costly china, making it unusable.  A distraught Josephine swore there had to be a better way to do dishes.  Her compassionate side, as well, sincerely wanted to relieve not only her servants, but also women everywhere from the drudgery of washing dishes three times a day.

It is said that one morning she was pushed so far by this vexation that she actually ran wild-eyed through the streets screaming, “If nobody else is going to invent a dish washing machine, I’ll do it myself!”

And now you know why you love Josephine Cochran.

But, luck was not on Will and Josephine’s side. Thirteen years passed in which time her husband’s business spiraled downward.  He turned to alcohol, which finally killed him in1883.  A devastated Josephine was left with a pile of debts and an empty bank account. Finding herself at rock bottom,  she remembered the long ago vow she had once made to invent a dishwasher.

By now others had tried, but their attempts were inadequate.  For example, the first model did little more than spray water on the dishes. Later in the 1860s, L.A. Alexander improved the machine by adding a geared mechanism that allowed the user to spin the racked dishes through a tub of water. (It seems pretty darned clear to me that neither invention was successful due to the fact that the less-than-fervent inventors were men. Men who would have never in their lifetimes stooped so low as to wash dishes three times in any one day of their lives!)

With no one to support the family but herself, Josephine went to work.  Her first functioning model was designed in the shed behind her Shelbyville, Illinois, house. Rather than experimenting with brush scrubbers, it used water pressure to clean the dishes. After many attempts to perfect this idea, on Dec. 28, 1886, her hand-operated mechanical dishwasher received a patent.

With great excitement Josephine displayed her marvel at the 1893 World’s Fair, but disappointingly only hotels and large restaurants were interested.  The ones who really needed it—the housewives with the cracked and bleeding chapped hands—were not.  Still she persisted and in time founded her own company.  It eventually became what we all know as KitchenAid.

Josephine died in 1913.  I’m guessing that prior to her death she wrote out specific instructions that in her coffin her hands were to be placed in full view on top of her bosom.  There on center stage for all to see, the people could witness her skin’s smooth, baby fine texture.  What a girl!  We really need to erect a statue to honor Saint Cochran!  She and she alone saved us from not only the dreaded dishpan hands, but she gave us extra hours in every day. It’s not Donald Trump who is trying to make America great again, it’s Josephine who actually did it.

In an updated 2018 manual written by dishwasher experts, it says that we should run our machines only if they’re full and not to bother with rinsing them off before putting them in the dishwasher.  (This does not include sticky chunks, I’m assuming.) They also advise against using the dry cycle.  Most of the water used in the dishwashers of today is so hot that it will evaporate quickly if the door is opened after the rinse cycle is completed.

And did you know that a dishwasher uses only half of the energy, one-sixth of the water and gallons less soap than hand washing an identical set of dirty dishes?  Machines built after 1994 use seven to ten gallons of water per cycle, while older machines require eight to fifteen gallons.

Additionally the water can now be heated in the dishwasher itself rather than using the family’s hot water heater, thereby no longer losing the heat during transit.  Plus the newer dishwashers heat only the correct amount of water required for each cycle.

Still for me one mystery remains. Why, oh, why can’t my very fancy-dancy dishwasher dry my plastic storage containers?  I always find them dripping wet.  Josephine, we still need you!

I swear, girls, that had I known years ago about the splendid Mrs. Cochran, I would have in gratitude named my only daughter Josephine.