Sunday, January 19, 2014

Doin’ the dishes …………

When my wife was growing up, she and her two sisters were in charge of cleaning and putting away the dishes after their meals. Sharon was in charge of washing, Donna dried the dishes, and Vickie put them away.

As soon as Sharon was old enough to make a little pin money, she started to pay her sisters to do her portion of the process, since she always hated doing dishes. The new arrangement worked beautifully, until her taskmaster mother learned about it, and Sharon once again resumed her role as the washer of the dishes.

Dishwashing machines are so common today that it’s easy to forget that there WAS a time, not that long ago, when they were very rare in modern homes.

It’s logical to assume that the dishwasher was invented by some poor housewife who, like my wife, hated to do dishes. As you might suspect, though, that simply is not the case.

The first patent for a mechanical dishwashing machine was issued in 1850 to a man named Joel Houghton. His device was made of wood, and cranked by hand. Due to the fact that it was unreliable and slow, it never really caught on.

The first reliable (hand-powered) dishwasher was invented in 1887 by Josephine Cochrane and unveiled at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Cochrane was quite wealthy and never washed dishes herself. She reportedly invented the dishwasher because her servants were chipping her fine china.

She eventually patented her invention, and started a company to manufacture the new product. Her company, the Garis-Cochrane company, eventually became a part of KitchenAid, which itself was eventually absorbed by Whirlpool. There are currently a number of companies that manufacture automatic dishwashers, but Whirlpool appears to be the largest manufacturer. In addition to Whirlpool dishwashers, the company also makes dishwashers for Sears Kenmore, KitchenAid, and Maytag.

Even during the postwar boom of the 1950’s, only wealthy individuals could afford to buy dishwashers, which were generally portable units that needed to be wheeled to a sink and connected to a faucet in order to operate.

By the 1970’s, the evolution in kitchen designs led to longer countertops and standardized height cabinets, and facilitated a boom in the installation of automatic dishwashers. Today, over 75% of the homes in America have an automatic dishwasher.

Although the dishwashers made by Whirlpool do a marvelous job of cleaning dishes, some of their models have had an unfortunate tendency to catch on fire, which led to the filing of class action lawsuits in the United States on November 3, 2011, and in Canada on September 9, 2013.

Our home, incidentally, has a Whirlpool dishwasher. Due to the fact that it is less than a year old, I’m confident that the safety devices that Whirlpool has recently installed to prevent fires will greatly reduce the possibility that we’ll have any nasty surprises in our kitchen.

Although dishwashers are suitable for the most common household dishes and silverware, they aren’t suitable for fine china, lead crystal, saucepans, and cast iron cookware. I also wouldn’t advice washing bicycle parts in dishwashers either, but I know a few bicycle aficionados in Chicago who have done exactly that.

I also wouldn’t recommend cooking in them, but many recipe websites now include instructions on how to cook food in a dishwasher. Salmon, in particular, seems to be a popular item for dishwasher cooking, but I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea.

If for some reason you think that cooking food in a dishwasher is a good idea, you may be interested to know that there are also recipes that will help you to cook turkeys in them as well.

I’ve heard a number of people state that the automatic dishwasher is the most indispensable modern appliance, so it’s not surprising that LOTS of people have written poems about them.

Yes, really.

If you Googled “ode to a dishwasher”, you’ll find a number of entries with that title. The link below (written by an Irish freelance writer named Margaret Hawkins) is just one example:

ode to my dishwasher.

(Her book, Restless Spirit: The Story of Rose Quinn, can be purchased from Amazon.)

Now that you know “the rest of the story” about your dishwasher, you’ll have a new appreciation for that mundane little machine that makes your life a whole lot easier.

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