Josephine Cochrane (1839-1913)
John Fitch, born in 1743 in Connecticut, built one of the first American steamboats. It was an odd machine – driven by a rack of Indian-canoe paddles. In the summer of 1790, Fitch’s steamboat was used successfully in the passenger line between Philadelphia and Trenton logging thousands of miles at six to eight mph carrying passengers that summer. Although, it failed commercially. Failure broke Fitch and he tried to drink himself to death. When that failed, he finally gathered enough Opium pills to kill himself.(1)
Almost a century later his Great-Grand daughter, Josephine Garis was born in 1839. Josephine’s father, John Garis, helped to build the city that was Old Chicago – before the great fire. So she came from a strong creative lineage. At the age of 19, she married a merchant and politician named William Cochran and tried to live the uptown life of a wealthy socialite in Shelby County, Illinois. She later added the ‘e’ at the end of her name to fancy it up – ‘Cochrane’.
Writer J. M. Fenster tells how, when she was 44, Josephine found that her fine china tableware was chipping. It’d been in the family since the 17th century, and the servants were being careless with it. So she took to washing her own dishes and was chafed at the indignity of it. There had to be a better way around the servants. She sat down with a cup in her hand, thinking – ‘Water jets offered the best means for cleaning dishes. The trick would be to aim jets on china held firmly in some sort of rack’. She started working on a design.
Josephine’s husband was ailing at the time and soon passed away leaving behind a scant fifteen hundred dollars and much more than that in debt. She was now pushed by need and driven by a passion to bring her idea to life. Working in a shed behind her house, she was ready with her new machine four years later. She received her patent on 28 December 1886 and named her company Garis-Cochran (which was renamed to Cochran’s Crescent Washing Machine Company in 1897). She hoped the machine would help housewives slaving over their soiled dishes in home kitchens.
She later said that the hardest part of the task was not turning from a socialite into a mechanic, but turning from a socialite into the promoter of a new product.(2) She failed to attract the home market.
She explained her failure in this way:
“When it comes to buying something for the kitchen that costs $75 or $100, a woman begins at once to figure out all the other things she could do with the money. She hates dishwashing—what woman does not?—but she has not learned to think of her time and comfort as worth money. Besides, she isn’t the deciding factor when it comes to spending comparatively large sums of money for the house. Her husband sees that adversely, generally, in the case of costly kitchen conveniences—though he will put comptometers and all that into his office every day of the week without even mentioning the fact to her.”
She then turned her efforts to hotels and later recalled: “That was almost the hardest thing I ever did, I think, crossing the great lobby of the Sherman House alone. You cannot imagine what it was like in those days for a woman to cross a hotel lobby alone. I had never been anywhere without my husband or father —the lobby seemed a mile wide. I thought I should faint at every step, but I didn’t—and I got an $800 order as my reward.”(3)
Her big breakthrough came in 1893 at the magnificent Chicago World’s fair (the Columbian Exposition). No less than nine Garis-Cochran washers were installed in the restaurants and pavilions of the fair and her dishwasher, placed in the mechanical exhibition, won first place for the “best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work.”
By the 1990’s, Josephine Cochrane, who in 1887 had been afraid to so much as walk across a hotel lobby, was traveling widely to oversee installation of her machines.(3)
While the first model was part-manual where the user poured water over the rack of clean but soapy dishes, her next model was motorized; it pumped the water itself, and moved the rack back and forth. She registered this one for an American patent in 1900. A subsequent model had the racks revolve, and drained itself via a hose into the sink.(4)
After Cochrane’s death in 1913, her company was purchased by The Hobart Manufacturing Company, now famous for its industrial dishwashing machines. Hobart introduced home dishwashers in 1949 under the KitchenAid brand, which is now owned by Whirlpool(5) – finally bringing to women in homes the invention that Josephine Cochrane had intended for them.(3)
Cochrane’s success makes a nice counterpoint to her great-grandfather. John Fitch churned the waters of an earlier America with his steamboat. He failed on the business side, where she at last succeeded. He failed to see his idea succeed – it made powered boats possible. Josephine saw her vision through. But both were inspired amateurs without any Engineering degrees simply driven by a dream. Both set the stage for the kind of lives you and I live all over the world.(2)
Great journeys begin with a dream and are driven by passion. The trick is to lose one day and come back to win the next.
6. Image – http://www.lionesswomansclub.com/1541-josephine-cochrane-your-best-friend-in-the-kitchen/
7. Feature image – http://www.protectia.eu/mujeres-inventoras/josephine-cochnan-inventora-del-lavavajillas/attachment/josephine-cochrane/