A Short History of Dishwashers

Curious about the history of dishwashers?  We've gathered some brief snippets of information about the historical background of this common appliance.

We may eventually turn this page into a more comprehensive dishwasher history text ... for now, here's a couple of interesting facts you may not know:

  • A patent for a hand-powered dishwashing device was granted in 1850 to Joel Houghton
  • 16 years later in 1886, a woman obtained a patent for the first practical mechanical dishwasher.  One day, I'll do some more research into her life.  I'm sure Josephine Cochrane must have been an interesting lady for her time to invent something like this!  The story goes that she didn't invent it to save herself the effort of washing dishes ... instead she was a very wealthy woman with servants who chipped her fine china while washing up to the point where she decided to come up with a better solution!  At the 1893 Chicago World Fair, she unveiled the first reliable hand-powered dishwasher.
  • It was another 50-60 years before the dishwasher became a popular household item in the 1940s-1970s.  The first major manufacturer was the Hobart Company.

History of Dishwashers - No Longer a Status Symbol

Fully automatic dishwashers as we know them now started being installed on a consistent basis in homes from the 1970s onwards.

In the 1980s, must-have status symbols included a car phone, dishwasher and private schools.  

It's hard now to imagine that only 30 years ago, having a dishwasher was something you could show off to your friends to make them jealous!

According to a UK study of 2000 Britons published in the Daily Mail newspaper, in the space of one generation, the things that were once used to show off wealth are now considered ordinary.

Symbols of success now include a swimming pool, fast cars and designer watches.  Here's the list of then and now:

1980s Status Symbols

Status Symbols Today

  1. A car phone
  2. A dishwasher
  3. Children at private or boarding school
  4. Two cars
  5. Holidays abroad
  6. A conservatory
  7. A pony
  8. A colour television
  1. A high performance car
  2. A designer watch
  3. Swimming pool at home
  4. Flying in first or business class
  5. A second home or more
  6. Tennis courts at home
  7. Children at private or boarding school
  8. A holiday home abroad

History of Dishwashers - What does the Future Hold?

Sometimes I wonder how I ever survived without a dishwasher.  But 100 years ago, very few people would have even dreamed of one.

Some dreams haven't yet become reality.  In 1956, the RCA-Whirlpool Miracle Kitchen began touring the world.  This research and development mock-up of what a kitchen of the future might look like imagined the dishwasher rolling to the table and returning to its place after dirty dishes were loaded.  The vision was for dishes to be scraped, washed and dried by the electronic appliance.    

So what does the future hold?

Dishwashers still rely on the same principles as they did 50 years ago with cleaning carried out by jets of hot soapy water.  But these kitchen appliances have improved enormously with technology making for better cleaning, drying and energy and water efficiency.  Dishwashers are getting smarter too, with some models able to send messages to smart phones to tell you when the dishes are done.

An innovation project by GE - "Home 2025" considers that one day we might have mini dishwashers in our sink for individual small loads.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

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