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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

MARY KINGSLEY (1862-1900) African Explorer

In adventure, Africa, Biography, Explorers, Feminists, fish, History, People, People from England, Trivia, Uncategorized, women on April 6, 2010 at 10:11 AM

Mary Kingsley

Mary Kingsley was conceived out of wedlock, her parents marrying only four days before her birth.  She kept this fact a secret, but perhaps it, and a lack of religious education, imbued in her the impulse to defy the expectations of a Victorian woman.  

During her childhood in England, Kingsley was mostly left to her own devices.  Her mother was sickly, and her father was a doctor who spent most of his time traveling abroad.  True to the double standard of the time, younger brother Charley was educated at Cambridge, and Kingsley was not given any opportunity to go to school except for some lessons in German to help her father translate scientific texts. She took it upon herself to read volumes of books in her father’s library, especially those about science and foreign lands.  The tales from her father’s adventures piqued her curiosity and gave her a window to a life she would dream about. 

Kingsley played the role of dutiful daughter for 30 years.  As her mother’s health declined, Kingsley’s household duties included nurse.  Dr. Kingsley contracted rheumatic fever on a trip and also became bedridden. 

In early 1892 both parents died within three months.  There are no indications that she had any suitors, so Kingsley was resigned to live with her brother, a total flake.

In 1982, Kingsley took a brief trip to the Canary Islands, and it left her wanting more.  She was searching for a purpose and decided to travel to West Africa to follow up on some of her father’s projects.  When Charley went to Asia in 1983, Kingsley seized the opportunity.

She sought the counsel of friends and experts before leaving, all of whom cautioned her not to go. Ignoring their advice, in August 1893, Kingsley arrived in Angola. Despite the hot climate, she wore the skirts, blouses, high buttoned shoes and hats she wore at home, feeling that even in Africa she couldn’t justify dressing in an undignified manner.  As a white spinster, Kingsley was an anomaly in Africa.  The only other western women there were wives of missionaries.

She did have a mission.  Some doctors and scientists who advised her to stay home suggested that if she were to go anyway, she could help them by collecting specimens of fish and plants, which she did.

In December 1893 Kingsley returned to England and began preparing for her next African expedition.  One year later she again found herself in the villages and jungles of West Africa.  Kingsley fearlessly explored areas that no white person had ever been to before.  She rowed a canoe up the Ogowe River in Gabon and was the first woman to climb Mount Cameroon, with a summit of 13,700 feet.

Her encounters with animals were often hair-raising, and she had a healthy respect for their natural abilities. “Whenever I have come across an awful animal in the forest and I know it has seen me I take Jerome’s advice, and instead of relying on the power of the human eye rely upon that of the human leg, and effect a masterly retreat in the face of the enemy.”  She declared the leopard, “the most lovely animal I have ever seen.”1

In dealing with the native people, the explorer had a very non-judgmental approach.  She knew that travelers, especially female, were oddities to the Africans, so she became a textile trader selling cloth for rubber and ivory.  Integrating into the societies instead of just observing and documenting endeared her to the natives more readily.  She described her interactions with the Fang (Fan), a cannibalistic tribe, saying, “A certain sort of friendship soon arose between the Fan and me. We each recognized that we belonged to that same section of the human race with whom it is better to drink than to fight.”1  

She had a very high regard for the indigenous life of the natives.  It surprised Kingsley that she became fond of them.  She wrote, “I confess I like the African on the whole, a thing I never expected to do… I went to the Coast with the idea that he was a degraded, savage, cruel brute; but that is a trifling error you soon get rid of when you know him.”1

When Kingsley returned to England in November 1895, she told her stories to curious journalists and captivated audiences, but not everyone agreed with her acceptance of the native lifestyle.  She understood how tribal life functioned, and her support of that way of life contradicted the aims of the Church of England and British colonization.  She upset the Church by defending the practices of the aboriginal Africans and criticizing the missionaries’ efforts to change them. 

Kingsley settled into her brother’s home and wrote Travels in West Africa, a detailed, candid account of her experiences.  The book was a best seller and led to a very busy schedule on the lecture circuit.  Always trying to enlighten as well as entertain, one lecture she gave to the staff and students at a London medical school was called “African Therapeutics from a Witch Doctor’s Point of View.”  Her stories were so popular that she wrote another book, West African Studies, in quick succession that included all the anecdotes she left out of the first one.

Kingsley’s legacy was not only sociological.  Of all the plants and fish specimens she brought back, three fish species were previously unknown and named after her.  In 1899, the intrepid adventurer went back to Africa, this time looking to collect fresh-water fish from the Orange River in South Africa.  When she arrived in Cape Town, the Boer War was going strong.  The best way for Kingsley to become involved was to nurse Boer prisoners at a camp in Simon’s Town.  Typhoid infiltrated the camp, and Kingsley became infected.  On June 3, 1900, she succumbed to typhoid and, at her insistence, was buried at sea.

QUESTION:  Where would you like to explore, and what do you think it would be like? 

                                ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

   Sources:

 1Kingsley, Mary, Travels in West Africahttp://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kingsley/mary/west/west.html

 http://www.royalafricansociety.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=169&Itemid=165

 http://www.billgreenwell.com/lost_lives/index.php?key_id=583

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

 http://africanhistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa011002a.htm http://africanhistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa011002a.htm

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