Dishwashers have come a long way since they were first invented. From the bulky, difficult-to-use machines of the past to the sleek, efficient models of today, dishwashers have made our lives much easier. Let’s take a look at the history of dishwashers and how they’ve evolved over time.

1. Who invented the dishwasher and when was it first created?

On May 14th, 1850, Joel Houghton received a patent for his invention titled “Improvement in machines for washing table furniture”. Joel Houghton’s hand-driven dishwasher was the first dishwasher invented. Below is an image depicting Joel Houghton’s invention;

Joel Houghton patent of the first dishwasher

You can find more information about the patent that Joel received for this on the Google Patents repository here.

Joel Houghton from Ogden, New York called the dishwasher a machine for washing table furniture.

Years later, Josephine Cochran improved Joel Houghton’s invention by adding a feature that enabled water pressure to clean dishes. This was a significant improvement from Joel’s invention.

The Cochran dishwasher became common in the 1890s and by the time she died in 1913, she had significantly improved the design to make it more user-friendly. Below is an image of Josephine Cochran’s dishwasher;

 Cochran dishwasher

Cleaning dishes by hand was extremely difficult and time-consuming. Houghton hoped to solve this problem with his invention, which he called a dishwasher. His invention improved the lives of many homemakers at the time.

The first fully automatic dishwashing machine (the machine capable of completely washing and rinsing the dishes) was invented in the United States by Josephine Cochrane. She had this idea while serving at a charity banquet, where she noticed the servers did not have proper tools to wash and clean the dirty dishes. To solve this problem, Mrs. Cochrane decided to build a dishwashing machine that would work with water pressure and soap suds. Cochrane was granted a patent for her automatic dishwasher in 1886, but it would be fifteen years before she could afford to have one built to her specifications.

Mrs. Cochrane’s first successful machine used water pressure to rapidly strike the dishes, with an arm moving up and down while holding riveted scrubbing brushes. The machine then sucked out the dirty water and sent in clean water. In 1892, her new factory-built this machine for restaurants and hotels across America, with a price tag of around $200 each ($4,900 in today’s dollars).

The first time Josephine Cochrane used one of her machines herself was at her home outside of Chicago. Her servants refused to use it, fearing the machine would break and injure them. One day Josephine tested the machine herself by hiding her favorite engagement ring among a load of plates. Once she was sure the machine was safe, she gave orders for all the family’s dishes to be cleaned in this way from then on.

A few years later (in 1914) the first fully automatic home dishwasher was invented. It had no taps (hot and cold water had to be mixed manually), it did not connect directly to the water supply (water tanks were filled by hand), and it could not do anything but wash dishes back and forth in a tub of soapy water. But since electric washing machines required running water and drainage, the earliest dishwasher models were sold in pairs with one unit stacked on top of the other.

The first electric dishwashers required two men to carry the 120 kilograms (265 lb) machine into a dwelling and connect it to an electricity source. The workman also needed to install rubber seals around the door; detach the sink to get access to the water taps; remove the drain covers, adjust them so they could seal tightly around the machine’s incoming and outgoing pipes, and finally install a new trap. The entire installation took an hour or two of time.

After World War II, manufacturers began building smaller dishwashers that were easy to install under a kitchen counter. These early models were portable and could be wheeled to the kitchen sink, disassembled for cleaning, and pushed back into place. Over time, dishwashers became more reliable and efficient.

2. Why was the dishwasher invented?

The invention of the dishwasher allowed dishes to be cleaned faster and more efficiently than ever before. This meant that women no longer had to spend as much time doing tedious, back-breaking work around the house.

3. Joel Houghton dishwasher

Joel Houghton’s invention was patented on November 26, 1886. Houghton’s dishwasher was not a machine; rather, it was a rack that held the dishes and another rack for the water to continuously flow through.

4. How did the first dishwashers work?

Joel Houghton’s invention was relatively easy to use: simply place dirty dishes on the rack and turn a handle. Water would then flow through the spouts, washing off the dirt and grease from the dishes.

The first dishwasher was designed only to wash dishes – it did not have an attached drying feature. After the invention of the moveable rubber sprayer, many inventors tried to combine the dishwashing machine with a dish dryer trolley that was made out of metal or porcelain.

5. How did the first dishwasher look like?

Joel Houghton’s dishwasher was somewhat rudimentary with metal wire racks that were designed to hold plates and cups out of the water while they were washed. They also included a drain at the bottom that allowed dirty water to leave the dishwasher.

The frame was made entirely of wood, and the water inlet pipe came in from one side while the wastewater exit pipe went out from the other side. Houghton’s dishwasher was relatively large, measuring roughly two feet across and four feet from the base to the top of the device.

To give you an idea of what the first dishwasher looked like, see the picture below.

6. The evolution of dishwashers over time /Dishwasher timeline

  • 1887 – Joel Houghton’s original design is patented with the first model introduced to the market.
  • 1925- Dishwashers become standard appliances in homes and reach a widespread distribution.
  • In 1938, Josephine Garis Cochran invented a new type of dishwasher with rollers instead of racks, which were designed to hold plates and cups in place while they were being washed. Cochran’s dishwasher was also the first to use a timer and water pressure instead of manual operation. The design for this device became known as a “pre-rinse” dishwasher because it allowed dishes that contained dirt or grease to be cleaned before they were even placed in the main wash tank.
  • 1958 – First dishwasher with an attached, automatic drying rack is invented.
  • 1968- Reversing the hot and cold water valves during wash cycle to clean both sides of dishes is patented.
  • 1974 – First very large commercial dishwasher for restaurants with 40 racks per hour, designed by the Whirlpool Corporation, was built for Winn Dixie supermarkets. It would take another decade for the dishwasher to move from the kitchen of a home to inside a restaurant.
  • 1987 – The United States Patent and Trademark Office awards a patent for the use of in-door water spraying.
  • 2008- The smallest kitchens can now accommodate a new compact or under counter dishwasher, which is deep enough only for two stacked dinner plates.

If you are in the market for the best model in 2022, check out my reviews of the best dishwashers here.

Below is another simplified timeline showing Dishwashers evolution over time

  • 1. Joel Houghton’s Dishwasher: Water would flow through the spouts, washing off the dirt and grease from the dishes.
  • 2. Laundromat Dishwasher: Rather than using a rack that held dirty plates in place, a machine was created that sprayed water throughout the machine to clean the dishes.
  • 3. First Commercial Dishwasher: In 1938 Josephine Garis Cochran invented a new type of dishwasher with rollers instead of racks, which were designed to hold plates and cups in place while they were being washed. Cochran’s dishwasher was also the first to use a timer and water pressure instead of manual operation.
  • 4. Dishwasher with Reversing Hot/Cold Water Valves: The design for this device became known as a “pre-rinse” dishwasher because it allowed dishes that contained dirt or grease to be cleaned before they were even placed in the main wash tank. It is also possible to receive a patent for the use of in-door water spraying.
  • 5. First Dishwasher with an attached, automatic drying rack: In 1958 first dishwasher with an attached, automatic drying rack was invented.
  • 6. Compact Dishwashers: 2008 The smallest kitchens can now accommodate a new compact or under counter dishwasher, which is deep enough only for two stacked dinner plates.

5. How dishwashers work

You might not know it, but even something as trivial as a dishwasher is actually built on top of pretty complex technology. In fact, there are several different components that work together in order to clean your dishes properly and efficiently.

In its most basic form, a dishwasher is just a water tank that sprays hot water at the dishes. In order to heat up the water, it’s either got a heating element or a gas burner underneath. As the name suggests, an impeller is responsible for spraying water around, while all of it gets sucked in from the drain in the bottom of the dishwasher.

To make sure that detergent actually reaches all surfaces of your dirty dishes, there is a pump that essentially sucks up the water and forces it through holes in the sprayer head. As you can probably guess by now, these holes are specifically designed for different types of detergents to get applied only on the surfaces where they are needed.

Among other things, there’s also a filter system that makes sure that no food remains to get into the drain and clog it.

There’s also a computer that controls all of this (and usually, also monitors your water and energy usage), while some dishwashers come with touch screens for easier use.

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