She Invented a Self-Cleaning House, but World Wasn't Ready

Frances Gabe dies at 101. Her epic idea never quite caught on
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 19, 2017 8:59 AM CDT

If the idea of a self-cleaning home sounds like a futuristic vision decades away, you'll want to acquaint yourself with the late Frances Gabe. She not only scored a patent for the idea—back in 1984—she built one in Oregon and lived in it for years. Gabe died late last year at the age of 101, and the New York Times catches up with an entertaining obituary. So how does a waterproof home work? The Willamette Weekly has a succinct description in this 2013 story: "The place was, essentially, a giant floor-to-ceiling dishwasher, with rotating water jets on the ceiling and floors gently sloped to drains." Everything inside the home of concrete cinder blocks was water-proofed or otherwise protected when the water came down. The patent encompassed more than 60 inventions, including one that arranged for hanging clothes to be automatically washed, then transported back into a closet.

As the Times recounts, Gabe's invention earned her international attention, including an appearance on the Phil Donahue show and a place in Chuck Palahniuk's book Fugitives and Refugees. "Housework is a thankless, unending job," she once explained. "It's a nerve-twangling bore. Who wants it? Nobody!" Gabe traveled the country with a working model, but, alas, the idea never caught on. Her patent lapsed in 2002, and Gabe herself moved into a nursing home about a decade ago. The house in Newberg is still there, but none of its self-cleaning gizmos are in operation anymore. Still, the Willamette paper calls Gabe "one of Oregon's most interesting figures," while the Times goes further: "a true American original, equal parts quixotic dreamer and accomplished visionary." (More obituary stories.)

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