Do you find you often take the everyday appliances in your home for granted? I do. And when something goes wrong I panic. Then I realise how little I actually understand about how these machines actually work. And then I feel guilty that the thought of living without a dishwasher is so depressing. Really, I scold myself, we’re lucky we have running water.
During my lifetime, particularly my time as a mother, household appliances have made life at home so much simpler. Throw in a cleaner once a fortnight and I am hardly in an apron chained to a kitchen sink for any long period of time.
So this morning when I was loading the dishwasher and the piece of plastic under the top drawer that helps the water spray around the machine suddenly fell off, I became curious. After realising I could screw it back into place and not have to worry about washing by hand, I decided to do a bit of research.
Thinking that the dishwasher was a modern day invention, I was surprised to learn that it was first patented in America in 1850. Joel Houghton invented the wooden machine with a hand-turned wheel. While not really a working machine, it was not long before an automatic machine was developed in 1886. Josephine Cochrane designed it and included racks to hold plates, cups and saucers. According to Wikipedia, she never washed dishes herself but was sick of her servants chipping the fine china. Her design gained much recognition and she soon started her own company: KitchenAid.
Dishwashers certainly weren’t fixtures in middle-class Victorian England – they had an entire room for washing-up. While kitchens were for cooking, the scullery across the corridor was for washing-up. Scullery maids would be busy just travelling between the kitchen and the scullery. Imagine every pot and dish would need to be taken out of the kitchen to be washed, dried and stored before being brought back out of the scullery into the kitchen next time it was needed.
In Bill Bryson’s book At Home, he writes about the Victorians’ eating habits.
‘A popular book of 1851 by a Lady Maria Clutterbuck (who was actually Mrs Charles Dickens), gives a good impression of the kind of cooking that went on in those days. One suggested menu – for a dinner of six people – comprises “carrot soup, turbot with shrimp sauce, lobster patties, stewed kidneys, roast saddle of lamb, boiled turkey, knuckle of ham, mashed and brown potatoes, stewed onions, cabinet pudding, blancmange and cream and macaroni.” Such a meal, it has been calculated, could generate 450 pieces of washing-up. The swing door leading from the kitchen to the scullery must have swung a lot.’
450 pieces of washing up from ONE meal! Washing up two plates, three bowls, a couple of knives, spoons, teacups and glasses this morning wouldn’t have been such a big deal after all.