Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Katelyn Eddington
Norma Hubbartt, a local native in Shelbyville Illinois, reenacted Josephine Cochrane on October 23, 2007, for a German television program called “Patents and Talents.” As part of the production the German tv crew came to homes of American inventors,including Shelbyville home of Josephine Cochrane inventor of the dishwasher.
When Josephine was a little girl she had plenty of experience working with motors, her father was an engineer, and her grandfather was the first person to build the steamboat. She moved to Windsor to live with her sister, after her private school burnt down.
Thats where she met William Cochrane, a politician. They married when she was just 19. The couple was constantly hosting dinner parties and always used their expensive china set, according to Hubbartt. Josephine got so fed up of the servants constantly breaking pieces while washing the china that she decided it was time to come up with a machine that could safely wash dishes effectively, without breaking them. Josephine then headed out to the woodshed behind her house, in Shelbyville, to start building the first dishwasher.
She started by measuring her dishes, then measuring each compartment so each dish could fit. When she succeeded making the machine her friends placed orders for one, and eventually started taking orders from restaurants and hotels. Her friends called it the “Cochrane Dishwasher.” She got it patented in 1886.
“She realized that it took six months to get a patent in Europe, and it took twelve months to get one here,” said Hubbartt
In 1893, she brought the dishwasher up to the Chicago World’s Fair. She only used her initials and because of this she was entered in the male category, yet another first for women had happened. She won best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work. After this world fair Chicago decided not to separate the women and men inventors.
Josephine did have issues with the dishwasher coming out into average homes. The average housewife was unimpressed with this machine because some houses lacked quantity of scalding water, others didn’t like it because it took too much hot water to run, and the rest of the typical housewifes found doing dishes by hand relaxing. Josephine’s company realized that the dishwasher could run on a hotter water temperature than the hand, because of this they realized that the dishwasher can kill more germs than doing it by hand.
The Cochrane’s company eventually merged with an Ohio manufacturer who later came up with the KitchenAide dishwasher. The market for dishwashers became profitable in the 1950s.
“She is why I have a KitchenAide in my kitchen,” Hubbartt said.
Hubbartt is now planning to retire from running her antique business. Norma would reenact Josephine at the courthouse, or cemetery through town events, and that’s how the German crew contacted her. She was very shy until her husband told her “You’re going to have to speak up or people will think you’re stuck up.” Her and her husband will be celebrating their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary on July 2.