A look at wash
by Delbert Trew
from early to modern
of my columns originate from a casual inquiry from a reader.
David Bowerman of Amarillo
asked whether I knew some of his relatives who operated a laundry
or "wash-a-teria" in early McLean.
When the question was presented to our coffee shop locals, we heard
some interesting facts and stories about this most important local
The earliest laundry site recalled is still standing as a wooden building
near the alley across from the Methodist Church. The equipment included
Maytag washing machines with wringers and rinsing tubs.
Since this was before the advent of affordable clothes dryers, the
back lot of the laundry was filled with clotheslines.
Most laundries of the time had a shallow trough built into the concrete
floor and covered with wooden slats to allow for dumping of tubs and
machines of dirty water. Most people brought their own homemade lye
soap to use.
Laundries introduced and sold commercial soap flakes, improved starches
and bluing to their customers as extra income for their businesses.
Most laundries offered self-service, bachelor service and commercial
services along with contract ironing.
This convenience was especially appreciated by the single workers
and cowboys of the rural area who often rode to town horseback, dropped
off their bundles of dirty clothes and retrieved their clean clothes
the next week.
A certain lady in town, who had a large family, brought her basket
of dirty clothes to the laundry in a little red wagon she pulled while
it was pushed by whichever child was of age at the moment. Since drying
clothes at the laundry cost money or time, she pulled her wet clothes
back home to hang on her own backyard line.
There was no hot water where she lived except that heated on the stove.
brief search into laundry history reveals Chinese immigrants operated
most of the commercial laundry businesses in the West.
The U.S. Cavalry kept its uniforms clean by paying troopers' wives
a fee to wash clothes down on "washer-row" each week.
Many early hotels and tourist courts ran their own personal laundries
in a special room located behind the office.
Rub or scrub boards were invented in 1797, making the old "poke-stick
in a boiling pot" method less desirable.
Mechanical-powered washing machines appeared in 1851 with the wringer
added in 1861.
Maytag manufactured wooden rocker-type machines for years, then introduced
the pivoting agitator machine in 1922. The first "top-loading" washing
machine was introduced in 1947. Amazingly, more than 145 patents have
been issued for clothespins alone.
Eventually, coin-operated washing machines and clothes dryers were
invented and perfected.
Entrepreneurs coined names like Laundry Mat, Washateria, Automatic
Laundry and Auto-Wash to attract customers. Large laundries, serving
commercial customers, bought trucks to "pick-up and deliver" the weekly
supply of laundry items.
If you are politically inclined, be aware that legislation is being
introduced to allow homeowners to hang clothes on their backyard clotheslines
even though their local homeowners' group says it is against the rules.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
April 25, 2006 Column
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