Dishwasher evolution: Everything you need to know about the history of the dishwasher

Dishwasher evolution: Everything you need to know about the history of the dishwasher
(Image credit: Bosch)

It is not that long ago that the cry of "Who's turn is to wash up?" would be met with a chorus of lame excuses about needing to do something else rather urgently.  

However, for most people, washing up time in days gone by is quite different to how it is now - back then, in the absence of a dishwasher, it was left to the designated washer-upper to roll up their sleeves and clean everything by hand. Now, most people can keep their sleeves rolled down as they simply load the dirty dishes into the dishwasher that will do the hard work for them. 

What it is easy to forget is as these wondrous machines work quietly away is that it has taken quite some for the dishwasher to evolve to what it is now. In fact, the invention of the dishwasher occurred some 160 years ago. 

While the best dishwashers now are all sleek lines and impressive functionality, early dishwashers were anything but streamlined and feature-packed. Now you can find out how the greatest labor saving device in your kitchen has evolved from a wooden machine with a handle to a tech-laden must-have in every home.

How the dishwasher was invented

The first patent granted for a device that washed dishes was back in 1850, invented by a man named Joel Houghton. He created a small, crank-operated machine that was built from wood. When cranked, water would make its way through the wood plumbing and spray over the dishes. This idea didn't take hold until a wealthy woman named Josephine Cochrane fine-tuned Houghton s invention in 1887 and entered it in the World's Fair. While she didn't wash dishes herself, Cochrane claimed that her servants often chipped dishes and used the dishwasher as a way to simplify the dishwashing process.

New inventions - rack and rotation

While the dishwasher as a concept may have come to life 160 years ago, those early dishwashers were nowhere near as efficient and effective as the machines we use today. In fact, the first dishwasher that even remotely resembles modern models was created by an English inventor in 1924, who implemented the rack system and rotating sprayer common in dishwashers today. Still, while the design was good, a lack of indoor plumbing meant that only super wealthy homeowners owned dishwashers.

Dishwasher evolution: Everything you need to know about the history of the dishwasher

(Image credit: Getty)

The post-War dishwasher boom

By the 1940s, a drying feature had been added to the list of features for dishwashers. However, while dishwashers continued to be used by wealthy homeowners, their wider roll-out to more homes continued to be held back by the absence of adequate plumbing, particularly as World War II understandably saw priorities lay elsewhere. In fact, dishwashers remained a luxury item until well into the 1950s post-war boom - it was only then that American families began using dishwashers on a more regular basis. By the 1970s, however, they were transitioning from a fringe item to a necessary appliance, and starting to become a more common sight, nestled alongside the best ovens and refrigerators

The modern day dishwasher

Travel forward several decades, and by 2012, 75% of American households would own a dishwasher - what is more, they would be stacked full of features too. 

When comparing the best dishwashers, there are now a number of innovations that make washing dishes easier, such as pre-soak cycles and rotating sprayers - trays and racks are also removable and can be moved around to allow for crockery and appliances of all shapes and size. 

Whether you're looking to replace an old dishwasher or building a new home, and wondering which is the best dishwasher to install, it's easy to get caught up in all the latest features and design elements of the various brands and models of dishwasher available. 

Perhaps before making your final choice, you should take the time to think back to the humble beginnings of this time-saving appliance, and appreciate exactly how far the best dishwashers have come. And then you can be thankful that you no longer have to run the risk of getting your sleeves wet as you splash your way through dirty dishwater! 

Molly Cleary

Molly is the Staff Writer for the Home Section at Top Ten Reviews, joining the team after finishing college. When she's not writing she enjoys baking and embroidery, as well as getting stuck into a good book. She now enjoys writing about kitchen appliances, gardening tools, and will even dip her toe into writing about fridges and ovens.