Friday, June 14, 2019

Wild Women who Created Everyday Items like the Dishwasher

By Jacqui Nelson

Sometimes we see or experience life-altering events that send us on wild adventures. Meet two Wild Women inventors who created life-altering items that now seem every day. Their creations altered not only their lives but ours forever.

Josephine Garis Cochrane 

( born 1839 in Ashtabula County, Ohio )

In 1870 when Josephine’s husband found success as a dry goods merchant and politician, he moved her and their two children into a mansion. Her new socialite life included hosting dinner parties using heirloom porcelain. After the overworked servants chipped the dishes, she had the idea for a mechanical dishwasher.

The only public domain picture of Josephine that I could find was this stamp from Romania that shows her photo and a drawing of her dishwasher.

Josephine Cochrane - stamp from Romania with her photo

In 1883, Josephine’s husband passed away and left her with substantial debt and in need of an income. With the help of a mechanic named George Butters, she worked on her dishwasher in the shed behind her house.

In 1886, she received a patent (for a design that held dishes securely in a rack and used water pressure instead of scrubbers) and began pursuing clients.

In 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, she won the highest prize for "best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work” and now had restaurants and hotels coming to her instead of her going to them.

Margaret "Mattie" Knight 

( born 1838 in York, Maine )

At the age of 12, Mattie and her siblings had to leave school and work at a cotton mill. She witnessed an accident at the mill where a worker was stabbed by a steel-tipped shuttle that shot out of a mechanical loom. Within weeks she invented a safety device that was later adopted by other mills. Her device was never patented and health problems brought on by working in the mill soon ended her employment there.

I couldn't find a picture of Mattie, but I found these pictures of children and women working in cotton mills in the 1830s.

Children working in Cotton Mill in the 1830s

Women working in Cotton Mill in the 1830s

Brown flat-bottom paper bagIn her teens and early 20s, Mattie went on to work in home repair, photography, and engraving. In 1867 she moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and was hired by the Columbia Paper Bag Company.

In 1868, at the age of thirty, she invented a machine that folded and glued paper to form today's familiar flat-bottomed brown paper bags. She built a wooden model of the device, but while working on an iron model (that was needed to apply for a patent), Charles Annan (who was in the machine shop where her model was being built) stole her design and patented her device. Mattie filed a patent interference lawsuit and was awarded the patent in 1871. She established the Eastern Paper Bag Company with a reliable business partner and received royalties.

Mattie was the first woman awarded a U.S. patent. By the end of her career, she held 87 U.S. patents. Some of her other inventions were: lid removing pliers, a numbering machine, a window frame and sash, and several rotary engines devices.

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What's your favorite everyday item? 

I currently don't have a dishwasher (the plumbing in my condo is older and dishwashers aren't allowed). I've actually only lived in one place that had a dishwasher, so I'm used to handwashing my dishes. I'd love the convenience of having a dishwasher, but I think if I had to choose just one everyday item, my pick might be a clothing washing machine :)

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Julie Lence said...

What great women! Thank you for sharing Jacqui, and I have to agree with you. While I love having a dishwasher, I would much rather have the wash machine. I would not want to wash clothes by hand.

Jo-Ann said...

What fascinating stories! Thanks for sharing.

Alice V said...

Ah, necessity really is the "mother" of invention. I like all my machines! If I had to pick one, it might be the refrigerator. I remember the old "icebox" at home and it was a messy item, always leaving rust stains on the kitchen floor.

Jacqui Nelson said...

Thanks for your comments, Julie, Jo-Ann & Alice! Alice, yes the refrigerator is a great invention!