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Homeward: Washing dishes is more than cleaning plates

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Kathy and I have lived in more apartments and houses than I care to count in our 33 years of marriage.

And in all the places where we have lived, only a few have had a dishwasher. Now, I know how that may sound since a dishwasher is a prerequisite for many tenants and homeowners. But for me, it’s not something I’ve ever bemoaned. In fact, it is at the kitchen sink I learned one of the most important lessons of my married life.

Joel Houghton patented the first mechanical dishwasher in 1850. It was a clanky, slow and unreliable device. Houghton’s invention attracted little attention since it was manipulated by a crank and most thought it was easier just to keep washing by hand.

The first viable dishwasher was introduced at the 1883 Chicago World’s Fair. The driving force was to create a device that would keep servants from chipping fine china.

Englander William Howard Livens invented the first domestic use dishwasher in 1924 coinciding with indoor plumbing and running water in homes. But it was in the postwar boom of the 1950s when dishwashers became a commercial success – well, among more wealthy households, that is.

Today, the dishwasher is a commonplace, fine-tuned asset that not only washes but properly sterilizes cups, glasses and plates at temperatures of 150 to 180 degrees.

So if the modern microprocessor-controlled dishwasher is such a great domestic tool, why would I ever suggest washing dishes by hand? It’s a little less reliable than the engineered dishwasher and it is certainly more labor intensive. But the “how to” of dishwashing is not the point. It is the “why” of hand-washing.