The New York Times published a piece today in honor of the late Frances Gabe, inventor of the world’s first and only self-cleaning house, who died in December. The loss of “a true American original” barely went noticed by the media or her hometown, Newberg, Oregon, who paid homage to her with an obit of roughly two dozen words.
An artist and inventor, Gabe’s Jetsons-like home was a stroke of brilliance. The NYT article on her and her home concept is superb throughout, but here are few tidbits that shouldn’t be missed:
To deal with laundry—in many ways her masterstroke—Ms. Gabe designed a tightly sealed cabinet. Soiled clothing was placed inside on hangers, washed and dried there with jets of water and air, and then, still on hangers, pulled neatly by a chain into the clothes closet.
In each room, Ms. Gabe, tucked safely under an umbrella, could press a button that activated a sprinkler in the ceiling. The first spray sent a mist of sudsy water over walls and floor. A second spray rinsed everything. Jets of warm air blew it all dry. The full cycle took less than an hour.
Runoff escaped through drains in Ms. Gabe’s almost imperceptibly sloping floors. It was channeled outside and straight through her doghouse, where the dog was washed in the bargain.
And best of all:
She was very difficult to get along with," [Allyn Brown, Gabe’s former lawyer and a longtime friend] said, warmly. "She had an adversarial relationship with all her neighbors and she didn't do anything to discourage it.”
Her invention, finished in the mid-1980s, at an estimated cost of $15,000, fascinated everyone from Harvard researches to the media. Erma Bombeck once proposed her as “a new face for Mount Rushmore.” However, due to a combination of patent issues and her “quixotic” charm, her tidy home trend never took off.