Who Invented the Garbage Disposal

Who invented the garbage disposal? Unlike many other inventions, credit for this common household device is very clear.

Meet John Hammes
Unlike many other inventions, credit for inventing garbage disposals lies clearly with John W. Hammes. In 1927, Hammes invented the garbage disposal, although it didn't become popular immediately. Hammes, a contractor from Racine, Wisconsin, wanted to find a better way to dispose of food waste. He spent the next 11 years developing his invention, which he tested in his own sink, wading through the cesspool behind his home to retrieve and measure the food particles his sink disposal sent down the pipe. Hammes got his first patent in 1935 and founded In-Sink-Erator in 1938 to build and sell his machines. The company continues to manufacture disposals today.

In-Sink-Erator Changes Regulations
The early going was tough for Hammes' new venture. Many communities had regulations in place that prevented the disposal of food waste into the sewage system. In-Sink-Erator lobbied communities to change these regulations. In some places, disposals were banned until studies proved that the food waste wouldn't create problems in sewer systems.

Garbage Disposals Gained Popularity
In spite of their usefulness, it wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s that garbage disposals became features in well-to-do homes. Even in the first decade of the new milennium, less than half of American homes have garbage disposals.

While In-Sink-Erator was successful in convincing many communities to rescind the prohibitions on food disposal, some communities held out against garbage disposals for a very long time. New York City is one of the most extreme examples; it was illegal to own a garbage disposal in New York City until 1997. It took a two-year study for New York authorities to finally allow disposals in the city.

Garbage disposal use is criticized even today. The machines consume electricity and water, and proponents of green living prefer composting to throwing organic waste down a disposal. Whether garbage winds up in a disposal or a landfill, the waste must be dealt with in a non-renewable way. Environmental advocates recommend that people find a way to compost organic waste rather than use a disposal, but that isn't a practical solution for city dwellers who don't have outdoor space.

While a garbage disposal still isn't a device that you'll find in every home, it's common enough now to be a regular part of American life.

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