Mining for Heart: “Dishwashing Machine Inventor Josephine Cochrane, Original Boss Lady” by Kate Hannigan

Thank goodness for dishwashers! Did you ever wonder who created this time-saving invention? Here’s how author Kate Hannigan found a story of more than the invention. 

And we have a GIVEAWAY! Just leave a comment below to get in the drawing for a copy of JOSEPHINE AND HER DISHWASHING MACHINE. 

KATE HANNIGANDishwashing Machine Inventor Josephine Cochrane, Original Boss Lady

By Kate Hannigan

I first got the idea to write Josephine and Her Dishwashing Machine: Josephine Cochrane’s Bright Invention Makes a Big Splash when I realized I was having a hard time naming a female inventor. As I often do when I begin any project, I pester family and friends like we’re on a gameshow. “Women of invention! Go!” Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace are always popular answers, as is Hedy Lamarr. But who else? When my research led me to Josephine Cochrane, I was smitten!

Josephine’s story delighted me because, come on, who doesn’t appreciate the dishwasher? Of all the household appliances we use each day, the dishwashing machine is one of the great liberators! Anyone who has lived without a dishwasher or a washing machine for laundry knows how much ridiculous joy they can bring into our lives when we are lucky enough to have them. I’m grateful every single day. Which means I am grateful for Josephine.

What bothered Josephine were the chips and dings she was finding on her dishware. To her, the handwashing process was a problem that needed fixing. And coming from a line of inventors, she was just the right person to find a better way. She threw herself into the process of inventing a solution.


Beyond a tale of invention, though, is that Josephine didn’t stop with her good idea. She wanted to build a business around it. There are few stories of nineteenth-century women as entrepreneurs, and Josephine’s tenacity grabbed me. This, to me, was the “so what” component that lifts her story to a new level.

No one in Josephine’s day could imagine a woman running a company. It was just a ridiculous, almost laughable thought. Despite all of her hard work, testing and trying and refining, to create this wonderful machine, Josephine would have to get out of the way. This, to me, seemed like the heart of the story—how many of us can identify with disappointment? With being underestimated? Undervalued?


“You cannot imagine what it was like in those days . . . for a woman to cross a hotel lobby alone,” she said. “I thought I should faint at every step, but I didn’t—and I got an $800 order as my reward.”

For a widow like Josephine, who caught her break at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, she had few role models to look to as she established her own factory and pushed her product into new markets like schools, hotels, and department store restaurants. It just wasn’t something ladies did. So researching all I could about Josephine thrilled the history nerd in me.

9781635926217There are countless fascinating figures from history whose stories catch our attention. As writers for young readers, it’s on us to show a child why someone is worth learning about. I found Josephine to easily meet the “so what” threshold because her invention is so relatable. It’s a story that can resonate with a reader. When it comes to helping around the house, washing the dishes is often one of the earliest chores a child is assigned. They can easily imagine Josephine holding her chipped plates and cracked cups in her hands and wondering how to fix this problem.

Maybe discovering Josephine’s story will inspire a young reader to think about a modern-day problem and decide to find that better way. And if they follow Josephine’s lead and “run the thing myself,” maybe they’ll start the next amazing business. And maybe, if we’re lucky, that invention will make all of our lives just a little bit better too.

Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of JOSEPHINE AND HER DISHWASHING MACHINE: Josephine Cochrane’s Bright Invention Makes a Big Splash ! (US addresses only, please. Winner announced 3/17/23)


Kate Hannigan writes fiction and nonfiction for young readers. Her Nellie Vs. Elizabeth: Two Daredevil Journalists’ Breakneck Race Around the World was named to Smithsonian Magazine’s “Ten Best Children’s Books of 2022,” and the first book in her historical fantasy series Cape, Mask, and Boots wa

21 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: “Dishwashing Machine Inventor Josephine Cochrane, Original Boss Lady” by Kate Hannigan

  1. Thank you for the inspirational interview! I always enjoy reading how authors find the “heart” of their stories. And thank you for the chance to win a copy to read as mentor text and share with others.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember when the family across the street bought the first dishwasher in the neighborhood. We all went over to see it, and then us kids made a fort with the appliance box. What a hoot!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Definite relatable! Of the 7 homes I have owned (consecutively), only the last two had dishwashers. It’s a machine I bless frequently! Inventor and boss lady–good for her!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved learning about Josephine and I’m glad that her story is being shared. My 9 year-old-granddaughter needs to know that women are capable of doing it all! Great book to spotlight during Women’s History Month!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love that you picked a topic we can all appreciate and then tell the story of the inventor! We should know more women inventor names! Looking forward to adding this title to my classroom library.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. JOSEPHINE AND HER DISHWASHING MACHINE: Josephine Cochrane’s Bright Invention Makes a Big Splash ! is such an interesting and inspiring story. What a joy to read and discuss this with kids.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I grew up in a family that took too long to warm up to modern inventions. It wasn’t until the 80s when my father broke down and bought an automatic dishwasher. Oddly enough, my mother didn’t trust it with her good dishes and only used it for the everyday plates and cups and silverware. I enjoyed reading your review of this marvelous book and the backstory from the author of how she came to write Josephine and Her Dishwashing Machine.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love this story. Hard to believe my mother never had a dishwasher so my sister and I did the dishes by hand and sang duets as we did. I could never get by without my machine!!! Thank you, Josephine !

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.