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JOSEPHINE COCHRANE (1839-1913) Invented the Dishwasher

In American History, Biography, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Inventions, Millionaires, People, Trivia, Victorian Women, women on April 20, 2010 at 9:03 AM

Josephine Cochrane

Josephine Cochrane believed that if you want something done right you better do it yourself.  But when it came time to doing the dishes, she really didn’t want to, so she invented a machine to wash them for her.

Cochrane’s early childhood is not known.  After her mother died and her sister moved out, she lived with her father, John Garis, in Ohio and Indiana.   He worked as a supervisor in mills and as a hydraulic engineer, perhaps instilling in Cochrane an instinctive knack for the mechanical.  She attended a private high school, but when it burned down, Garis sent his daughter off to live with her sister in Shelbyville, Illinois. 

After high school graduation, Cochrane’s life took a traditional turn.  At age 19 she married 27 year old William Cochran.  In 1857, after a disappointing four years trying to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush, he returned home to Shelbyville and made his mark and fortune in the dry goods business along with other investment opportunities.  No doubt the comfortable life he could offer his bride was one thing she was attracted to. 

In spite of her young age and the societal norm at the time, Cochrane was guided by her independent nature and personal confidence.  She assumed her husband’s name but preferred spelling it with an “e” on the end, a point of contention with his family. 

The Cochrans had a busy social life, and in 1870 when they moved into what could be considered a mansion, they had the perfect house for entertaining.  They threw dinner parties using heirloom china allegedly dating from the 1600s.  After one event, the servants did the washing up and carelessly chipped some of the dishes.  Cochrane discovered this the next morning while she was putting the dishes away.  She was furious and refused to let the servants handled the china any more. 

She may have regretted her decision, but she didn’t give in.  The morning after every subsequent dinner party she begrudgingly endured dishpan hands wondering why someone hadn’t invented a machine that could clean dirty dishes.  This was, after all, the late 19th century, and if someone could invent a machine to sew clothes and cut grass, then how hard could it be? 1 

One such morning while she was up to her elbows in soap suds, she had an epiphany.  Why not invent a dish washing machine herself?  Consumed with the idea, she immediately went into the library to think it through, forgetting she was holding a cup in her hand.  Within half an hour Cochrane had the basic concept for the first mechanical dishwasher.  Just like she had been doing by hand, it held the dishes securely (in a rack) while the pressure of spraying water cleaned them off.

William Cochran was a rising star in the Democratic Party, but too much alcohol led to a violent temper and illness.  While Cochrane was busy with the details of her invention, William went away for a rest. Unfortunately, he didn’t get well, and he died two weeks later in 1883.  

While the Cochrans appeared to be successful socialites to their friends, all was not well at home.  Her husband left Cochrane with a mound of debt and only $1,535.59.  Now, developing the dishwasher was not only for convenience, it was for survival.

Her creation had wire compartments for plates, cups and saucers.  They were put inside a wheel that lay flat inside a copper boiler.  A motor turned the wheel pumping hot soapy water from the bottom of the boiler over the dishes.  Cochrane showed her design to a few men for their input which ended up being a frustrating experience.  “I couldn’t get men to do the things I wanted in my way until they had tried and failed in their own,” she said.  “And that was costly for me. They knew I knew nothing, academically, about mechanics, and they insisted on having their own way with my invention until they convinced themselves my way was the better, no matter how I had arrived at it.” 2   Finally she got help with the construction from mechanic George Butters and received her first patent on the Garis-Cochran Dish-Washing Machine December 28, 1886. 

Cochrane’s first customers were not the housewives she thought she was helping. They didn’t want to spend the money on something they didn’t really need, so she turned to hotels.  After selling a dishwashing machine to the Palmer House hotel in Chicago, she had one recommendation.  Then she did one of the hardest things she’d ever done: she made a cold call to the Sherman House hotel in Chicago, waiting in the ladies’ parlor to speak with the manager.  “You asked me what was the hardest part of getting into business,” she once told a reporter. “…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.”2

In 1893 Cochrane convinced restaurants at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to use her invention, and it was an exhibit in Machinery Hall.  That success led to her opening her own factory in an abandoned schoolhouse.  Her customers extended to hospitals and colleges for whom the sanitizing effects of the hot water rinse were important.  Homemakers finally started using it, too.

In 1912, at 73 years old, Cochran was still personally selling her machines.  She died in 1913.  In 1916, her company was bought out by Hobart which became KitchenAid and is now Whirlpool Corporation.  Cochrane is considered the founder.

 QUESTION:  Which modern convenience do you think it would be impossible to live without?

                       ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Sources:

 1 http://www.enchantedlearning.com/inventors/1800a.shtml

 2http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/1999/2/1999_2_54.shtml

  http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/256.html

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MADAME C.J. WALKER (1867-1919) First Self-Made American Woman Millionaire

In African-American women, American History, Biography, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Guiness Book of Records, Hair, History, Millionaires, People, Uncategorized, women on March 22, 2010 at 8:12 PM

Madame C .J. Walker

Madame C. J. Walker turned a bad hair day into a fortune and a Guinness World Record.  She followed her dream, literally, turning her life into a true “rags to riches” story. 

Sarah Breedlove was the fifth of six children born to former slaves in Louisiana. Both of her parents died when she was seven years old, but being an orphan wasn’t a life sentence to poverty.   She moved in with her older sister and brother-in-law and survived by working in the cotton fields of Louisiana and Mississippi.  This turned out to be a bad situation, so at age 14 she married Moses McWilliams to escape her brother-in-law’s abuse.  

Four years after her marriage, Breedlove had a baby girl.  Two years later her husband died and she was again forced to find her own way.  She moved to St. Louis where her four brothers had become successful barbers.  She earned $1.50 a day working as a washer woman and eventually saved enough money to send her daughter to school.  

Breedlove’s own education was spotty.  When she reached school age, there were no funds allocated by the white legislators in Louisiana to educate black children.  Then she was pressed into working full time to contribute to the household of her sister and brother-in-law.  In St. Louis, she managed to improve her reading and writing with the help of the women at the St. Paul AME church.  These women also became her social network and eventually an inspiration for growing her business. 

Loss and abandonment followed Breedlove to St. Louis.  All her brothers died and she married and divorced John Davis.  In addition, an ailment that caused her to lose almost all her hair plagued her. She desperately tried various homemade remedies and store bought products.  One potion she used was created by Anne Malone, and in 1905 Breedlove moved to Denver as a sales rep for Malone.  

Life took a turn for the better in Denver.  Not one to depend on another, Breedlove wanted to develop her own hair products.  The formula for a solution to her problem was revealed to her in a dream.  “…One night I had a dream…a black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up in my hair. Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, mixed it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out. I tried it on my friends; it helped them. I made up my mind to begin to sell it.”1 She worked with a pharmacist to develop her own line that rivaled Malone’s. 

Her love life was looking up, too.  She married newspaperman Charles Joseph Walker.  Breedlove changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker, and it proved to have the sophisticated sound that instilled confidence in shoppers.  Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower scalp conditioner was her ticket to success. As for her marriage, unfortunately the third time was not a charm, and they divorced after six years.  

Madam Walker remembered the relationships she developed with the women at the church in St. Louis.  She saw a large potential market in such fellowships and gave product demonstrations at churches and lodges. She also implemented a door to door, grass roots selling strategy that led to hiring individual sales agents. Walker acknowledged that her level of education was insufficient to run a profitable business, so she hired a former teacher to tutor her privately.  

The Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company was founded with five original products.  Expansion was inevitable, and for a year and a half she moved to Pittsburgh and opened the Lelia College of Beauty Culture, named after her daughter.  In 1910 Walker moved her entire operation to Indianapolis where she built a factory, training school, and hair and nail salon.  

Walker’s success was three-fold.  First, she accrued an enormous personal wealth.  Second, she provided economic opportunity for black women which gave them an alternative to domestic labor. Her sales agents could potentially earn between $5 and $15 dollars a day when unskilled white laborers were only earning about $11 a week.2 The sales force was organized into local and state clubs with opportunities for management on every level, a model that is used in many companies today.  In 1917 the Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America was big enough to hold a convention in Philadelphia.  

Third, Walker believed that with wealth comes responsibility, and she became a role model for using her riches to support political and philanthropic causes.  She gave generously to African-American organizations and instilled this virtue in her sales force.  At the 1917 convention, Walker gave out awards to her agents not just for their business achievements but also for their political activism.  

The headquarters for the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company remained in Indianapolis, but in 1916 Walker and her daughter moved to Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, and Walker supervised the business from there.  Their new home was a 30-room mansion designed for them by black architect Vertner Tandy, and Walker spared no expense on the furnishings.  The estate was named Villa Lewaro after the first two letters of her daughter’s name: Lelia Walker Robinson, and is in the National Register of Historical Places. 

During the last year of Walker’s life, total sales of her company exceeded $500,000 and she had trained some 40,000 sales agents serving customers the U.S., Central America and the Caribbean.3 Her legacy includes The Guinness Book record as the first self-made American woman millionaire, and in 1998 the U.S. Postal Service put her image on a stamp. 

QUESTION:  What would you do if someone gave you one million dollars today? 

                                 © 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved 

Sources: 

1http://www.brilliantdreams.com/product/famous-dreams.htm 

2Henry Louis Gates Jr., “Madam’s Crusade”, Time magazine, December 7, 1998, Canadian edition. 

3http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5662.html 

http://madamcjwalker.com/bio_madam_cj_walker.aspx 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madam_C._J._Walker 

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5662.html 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/walker_hi.html 

http://www.brilliantdreams.com/product/famous-dreams.htm 

http://www.irvingtonhistoricalsociety.org/nrhp/nrhp04.html

ANNIE KOPCHOVSKY LONDONDERRY (1870? – 1947) Rode A Bicycle Around the World

In adventure, American History, Biography, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, History, People, Trivia, Uncategorized, Victorian Women, women on March 9, 2010 at 12:56 PM

Annie Londonderry

Annie Kopchovsky left her husband and young children to circumnavigate the globe in order to prove women were as capable as men.  Was she crazy and irresponsible or courageous and heroic?    

Although Kopchovsky was born in Latvia, she became an American as a young child, moving with her family to Boston.  At 18 she married Max Kopchovsky, a peddler, and within the next four years they had three children.    

A master at self promotion, it’s not totally clear which details of the story are true or created by Kopchovsky to enhance her ability to make money.  Nevertheless, the inspiration for this incredible journey is attributed to a bet.  Two wealthy Bostonians were sitting around their club discussing the fairer sex.  One asserted that the modern woman could do just about anything a man could, and his companion took the bait.  They shook on a wager that a woman could ride a bicycle around the world in 15 months and earn $5,000 along the way.  The precedent for this challenge was Thomas Stevens who completed a similar feat in 1887.    

It’s not clear why she felt compelled to do this since she had never ridden a bicycle before, but Kopchovsky was likely caught up in the craze of women who were using the vehicle to express new freedoms.  Susan B. Anthony was quoted in the New York World in 1896 as saying bicycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”   

On June 27, 1894, 24-year-old Kopchovsky hopped on her 42-pound Columbia woman’s bike wearing the long skirt, corset and high collar of the time.  Perhaps creating the first Mr. Mom, she waved goodbye to her husband and three small children and some fans from the local cycling club as she headed off for New York.  One newspaper reported her departure saying she “sailed away like a kite down Beacon Street.” She carried with her only a change of clothes, a pearl-handled pistol and a lot of chutzpa.  The Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company offered her $100.  In return for their sponsorship, she agreed to carry their placard on her bike and adopt the name “Annie Londonderry.”   

From New York she rode to Chicago arriving on September 24th.  By then she had lost 20 pounds and realized that if she was to continue, she would have to make some major changes.  First, the bicycle was too heavy, so she switched to a 21-pound Sterling model with a man’s frame, one gear and no brakes.  Second, it was impossible to ride a man’s bike in woman’s attire, so she first donned bloomers and then eventually wore a man’s riding suit for the rest of the trip.   

Her original plan was to continue riding west, but the impending winter made it necessary for her to switch direction.  She rode back to New York and sailed to Le Havre, France, arriving there in early December.  Things did not go well at first.  Her bike was impounded by customs officials, her money was stolen, and the French press declared that she was too muscular to be a woman, thereby assigning her to the category of “neutered beings.”  Somehow she was able to turn things around, and, despite inclement weather, she made it from Paris to Marseilles in two weeks via cycling and train.  In Marseille, Londonderry (as she was now known) boarded the steamship “Sydney.”  Ports of call included Alexandria, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki and Kobe.  To prove that she had actually been there, she had to get the signature of the United States Consul in each location.      

Londonderry became a real entrepreneur.  She kept herself going with income from displaying advertising banners on her bike and her person and telling her story.  Telling the truth was less important than fundraising, and she concocted many stories about her background.  In France she intrigued people with tales of being an orphan, an accountant, a wealthy heiress, a lawyer, a Harvard medical student, the inventor of a new method of stenography, the cousin of a U.S. congressman and the niece of a U.S. senator.  In addition she sold promotional photos, silk handkerchiefs, souvenir pins and autographs.   

Londonderry returned to America via the San Francisco harbor on March 23, 1895.  From there she pedaled to Los Angeles and then through Arizona and New Mexico to El Paso. She headed north and arrived in Denver on August 12 and then continued on to Cheyenne where she jumped on a train that carried her through Nebraska.  From there she hopped back on the bike bound for Chicago, where she arrived on September 12.  It’s assumed that she rode the train home to Boston where she arrived on September 24, 15 months from when she left.   

During her trip across America, Londonderry captivated audiences with stories from exotic places and earned enough money from her lectures to supplement the other earnings and make the $5,000 as required in the challenge.  She described hunting tigers with German royalty in India and a brush with death, nearly being killed by “Asiatics” because they thought she was an evil spirit.  She became involved in the Sino-Japanese war of 1895.  On the front lines she fell through a frozen river and ended up in a Japanese prison with a bullet wound in her shoulder.  Whether true or invented, audiences loved her tales and the press ate them up.   

After returning to Boston, Londonderry was accused of traveling more “with” a bicycle than “on” one, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for her achievements.  On October 20, 1895 the New York World described her trip as “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.”   Both the newspaper and Londonderry wanted to cash in further on her triumph, so she accepted the offer to write feature articles under the by-line “The New Woman.”  Seeing more potential from her peddling adventure than in her husband’s peddling business, she moved her family to New York for her new journalism career.  Her first article was about her round-the-world bicycle adventure.  “I am a journalist and ‘a new woman,’ ” she wrote, “if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.”   

QUESTION:  What is the most interesting, daring or challenging thing that you have known one of your parents to do?  How did it influence your life?   

                                   © 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved   

     Sources: 

“Champion of Her Sex,” New York Sunday World, 2 February 1896, p. 10.   

http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0828/p20s01-algn.html   

http://www.experienceplus.com/reading_room/books/around_the_world_on_two_wheels.html   

http://www.annielondonderry.com/learn.html   

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Londonderry   

http://cyclingsisters.org/node/5019   

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Stevens_(cyclist)   

http://www.ahands.org/cycling/thomas_stevens.html   

http://nicomachus.net/writing/womens-liberation-through-cycling/