The dishwasher: who invented it and when? The Real Answer

It is only quite recently that electricity and plumbing are widespread in houses. Therefore we have to see how we define a dishwasher before we can tell who invented it.


Before the 19th century

Cutlery and glasses have been used for centuries and people used to wash them in rivers. The flow made it easy to clean them. Ancient Greek (12th-9th century BC) was among the first that had plumbing systems. At that point in time, they probably washed the dishes by hand. It is possible that they had some hand-powered machines but they were probably made out of wood and were very rudimentary.

There is still research being conducted to see what machines people used before. People had more time back then and it is possible that they didn’t see the need for a machine. These wouldn’t be really comparable with the dishwasher that we have nowadays anyway.

19th century: when the modern-day washing machine was invented

It is easier to know more about more recent versions of the dishwashers as patents were filed for them. The seeds of this appliance as we know it today were sown in the 19 century. 

Almanac: The Dishwasher - CBS News

At that point in time, a lot of innovations such as the telephone and electricity were coming up. People believed in technology and were experimenting with it. 

Joel Houghton filed a patent in 1850 for a wooden tub that had brushes in it. It was hand-powered. The first modern dishwasher was a manual system that was powered by turning a crank. The first versions were quite rudimentary and have been refined over time. 

An improved version was created by Josephine Garis Cochrane 20 years later. She made the design more practical by spreading out the dishes. This made them cleaner and easier to get in and out of the machine. It combined copper and wood so was quite advanced. It was displayed at the World Fair in the USA. It reached a niche market of hotels and people that threw big parties. A factory was set up to make the machines and it can still be found in some museums.

Manual dishwashers can save some time but they lack the big advantage of electric dishwashers: not having to do any work. People didn’t have electricity at home back then so there was no use in having an electric dishwasher. Furthermore, employees were cheaper back then and the rich people had a staff that did the dishes for them. The broader population didn’t have the means to invest in this machine. Therefore the idea of a dishwasher didn’t really take off very fast.

20th century: The growing popularity of the dishwasher

Miele was one of the first companies that introduced electric dishwashers around 1920. Unfortunately, it was introduced during a hard economic time and was more seen as a luxury at that point in time. Despite this, the founders of the company kept going and it became one of the biggest producers of dishwashers in the world.

At the same time, William Howard Livens was working on a design that has a lot of modern features such as a door to close the dishwasher. It also had a drying element that is a great feature as it makes doing the dishes even easier. 

After the second world war, more and more houses got modern plumbing and electricity. People were working and busy so the time was ripe for the washing machine. At that point in time, the washing machine and TV were being introduced and people got used to automating things at home. They were looking for a machine that could do the dishes as well.

It took some time to perfect the machine and the first generations broke down quite often. The mass manufacturing process had to be optimized and the prices had to go down. Since the seventies, more and more people saw the advantage of owning one and it become popular across the world. 

Nowadays more than 60% of American households have a dishwasher. Entry models start for a few hundred dollars and it is quite easy to install and maintain. There are several models, from small editions that can stand on a sink to very big commercial machines that are used in companies and hotels. These machines can be very complex as they have to wash hundreds of plates at the same time. 

The future of dishwashers

Dishwashers work quite well and can last more than a decade. Still, companies are trying to improve the design. At the moment it can be challenging to get clean dishes if you don’t load the machine correctly or use all the liquids that are needed (such as a dish rinser). This can create a white film on your dishes. It is clear that there is still room to improve dishwashers and companies are working on new ways to improve this device. 

Dishwashers will get connected to the internet. This will allow you to control your dishwasher from anywhere. The machine will also be able to provide recommendations so that you will get better results. It might be able to order detergents when it is out of it. 

Companies are also experimenting with new technologies such as waves and lasers. This will save electricity and water. Some dishwashers even integrate with cabinets so that you don’t have to get the dishes out of the dishwasher. This saves people even more time and is more convenient.

Artificial intelligence can also be used to recommend the optimal way to load the machine and find the best settings so that your dishes always get sparkly and clean when the machine is done. 

 Dishwashers will look completely different in the future and will make it more convenient, cheaper, and will provide a better result. 

To conclude, we can state that it is difficult to tell who invented the dishwasher as the machine has evolved a lot over time. A lot of people had an impact on the design as we know it today. Furthermore, we needed modern appliances such as electricity and water before it could become a commonplace item. From its inception more than 200 years ago to its widespread availability, there were a lot of steps along the way.