The humble beginnings of the garbage disposal, an appliance we all take for granted

By Andy Kriege, YSN

As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of John W. Hammes, who was obsessed with sparing his wife the dreaded chore of taking out smelly kitchen garbage, it resulted in the invention of a household appliance that has reached every corner of the civilized world.

Hammes (1895-1953) was an architect by day and tinkered in his basement workshop in Racine, Wis., by night. In 1927 he began to devise a solution to the smelly kitchen waste problem. He came up with a grinding unit hooked to an electric motor that used centrifugal force to turn food waste into particles small enough to be flushed down the drain and into the city’s sewage system.

The original patent drawing for ‘Garbage Disposal Device’ submitted by Hammes in 1933.

After 10-plus years of perfecting his garbage disposal prototype, he was ready to start commercial production on what would become the InSinkErator. The name, which was used for the product and the company that manufactured it, played on the word “incinerator,” while also giving a nod to the fact that the appliance did its work beneath the kitchen sink. It was nicknamed the “Electric Pig” when first introduced by Hammes.

General Electric also introduced a disposer around this time. That product was introduced in 1935 and was known as the Disposall.

The innovation faced headwinds in the 1930s and ’40s as many cities had regulations prohibiting the disposal of food waste in their sewer systems. Using a targeted marketing campaign, Hammes convinced many cities to lift their restrictions to allow for garbage disposal units.

InSinkErator flourished during the post-World War II housing boom of the 1950s and ’60s, touting the labor-saving device with full-page ads in trendy magazines like Vogue.

The appliance gained even more traction when city officials around the country recognized that the use of disposals was a cost-effective way to contend with household garbage. Several cities even began adding requirements for garbage disposal units to their building codes for new housing.

InSinkErator was acquired by Emerson Electric Co. in 1968 and became a wholly-owned subsidiary. By the late 1970s, InSinkErator was producing half of all the garbage disposal units sold in the world.

If it Can Make it There it Can Make it Anywhere: New York, New York
Not all municipalities warmed up to the garbage-eating appliance. In fact, New York City banned them in the 1970s. Rumors swirled around (no pun intended) that they were banished because police feared that murder victims might be disposed of down the drain. But the real reason was that officials were more concerned about the city’s aged sewer system handling the added waste from all those kitchen sinks. After the ban was lifted in 1997, ads for apartments began listing the dutiful garbage disposal right up there with onsite parking, fireplaces and balconies. Nevertheless, many complexes still prohibit them to this day.

At Your Disposal: BrandSource Dealers
BrandSource partner Joneca Company is the third-largest food waste disposal producer in the U.S. and supplies dealers with products under the Waste Maid Elite brand. While the basic operating principles of the nearly 100-year-old device remain the same, there are many new features and innovations in today’s models that consumers and many retailers may not be aware of.

“The operating platform has not changed much in recent years, but small changes have made our products more efficient and longer lasting,” said Tom Dugan, Joneca’s director for national accounts. “All of our grinding components are now stainless steel. That means they will not corrode or freeze up like lesser models often do.”

Dugan added that “Another issue is the physical size of the unit. As the cabinet under the sink gets more cluttered and crowded, customers are asking for smaller-sized disposals. So we have designed ours to take up less space.”

Joneca Company’s Tom Dugan displays the latest and greatest in disposer technology at a recent BrandSource show.

The mighty garbage disposer is an outstanding legacy left by John Hammes that is still being perfected today. And to think it all began with a man who simply wanted to spare his wife from taking out the garbage!

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, furniture, mattress and CE dealers.