Josephine Cochrane was born in 1839 in Chicago. Her parents were Irene Fitch and John Garis. Garis was an engineer and helped to build what would be old Chicago before the great fire. “Her father supervised saw mills and woolen mills along the Ohio River. Cochrane often accompanied him and received an early introduction to machinery. She also enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle and developed many social skills (Karwatka, 2000).”
While in high school Josephine moved to central Illinois to live with her sister. While there she met businessman and politician William Cochran. The two married in 1858. In order to fancy up her new married name Josephine officially changed it to Garis-Cochrane and the two lived as wealthy socialites in Shelby County Illinois.
Cochrane had inherited many pieces of fine china that had been in her family since the 1600’s. She noticed that while washing the dishes her servants would at times be careless and chip or crack the precious family heirlooms. “She took to washing her own dishes and chafed at the indignity of it (Lienhard).”
Using the engineering knowledge passed down to her from her father Josephine envisioned a machine that could wash dishes faster and with less breakage than servants and she would no longer have to do them herself. Cochrane was heard saying “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself!” Secluding herself in the library of her large home Josephine pondered the idea until she finally came up with an answer.
Mr. Cochran was supportive of his wife’s plan to build an automatic dish washing machine but fell ill and died just two weeks later. It was then that Josephine discovered they were all but bankrupt. This dismal news never even fazed the new widow. She was already hammering together in her shed the prototype to one of the greatest domestic inventions of all time, the dishwasher. “Mrs. Cochrane applied for the first of her many patents on the invention and received it on December 28, 1886 (Fenster, 2008).”
Cochrane’s “big’ break came in the form of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Local hoteliers used the Garis-Cochran Dishwashing Machine to wash nearly 10,000 dishes in mere minutes instead of days. Judges awarded Josephine’s machine with the highest prize calling it the “best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work (Fenster, 2008).”
Josephine Cochrane’s company would later come to be known as KitchenAid, part of the Whirlpool Corporation. “She is somewhat representative of 19th century women inventors,” said Joyce Bedi, a historian at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation in Washington, D.C. “Married women in the 19th century really don’t have any property rights; those are given up with marriage. “So invention, especially for unmarried or widow women, becomes an economic way to survive. Women tend to invent in the areas they know best (Beerens, 2008).”