All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About The History of Laundromats
If you’re currently enrolled in a history course or have had the privilege of taking one in the past, there’s a good chance that you never touched on the topic of laundromats. This isn’t due to a lack of information or knowledge regarding the history of these handy facilities. Instead, this oversight can be more accurately attributed to a decision by administrators that other events, places, and people take precedence due to their importance and relevance. Now that you’re sitting at the laundromat with nothing else to do, you can finally learn all you’ve ever wanted to know about the history of laundromats.
Life Before the Laundromat
When laundromats first emerged, they offered more than convenience and efficiency. These public amenities also marked a major transition for anyone who was stuck completing their laundry at home. Laundromats were the first places outside of a person’s private home where a household chore like laundry could be completed. Before there were any laundromats, everyone had to take care of their dirty clothes at home. Up until the 1900s, this meant using some form of cleaning solution, water, and rugged surface for rubbing off stains. Right before the first steam washer was invented, people were using a wooden drum over an open flame to wash their clothes.
Even though the first electric washer was constructed and patented in the early 1900s, it took a few decades for the first laundromat to be established. The foremost laundromat opened its doors on April 18, 1934, in the small town of Fort Worth, Texas. Instead of being known as a laundromat at the time, the building which featured self-service washers with coin machines was called a “washateria”. The first laundromat charged people by the hour as opposed to by the load. This self-service “washateria” quickly grew in popularity amongst the locals. Since the laundromat was established in the middle of the Great Depression, many people thought that the rental fee was more reasonable and manageable than purchasing a steam-powered washing machine for their home. Within a few years, “washaterias” were popping up all over Texas and in some neighboring states.
Throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the idea of a public place to do your laundry grew in popularity across the US. This increased use of laundromats was partially due to the population growth that was happening in cities and towns across the country. Laundromats were primarily found in areas with a dense population. Fewer people were living in homes and apartments were becoming the norm. Due to a relative lack of living space, more people were taking advantage of these laundromats to avoid having to place a washing machine and dryer in their apartments. Since the initial concept of laundromats was truly hands-off, many owners realized that their stores were deteriorating through constant use and general neglect. This led to greater attention to detail and a higher level of care overall. Laundromat owners focused on maintaining a cleaner store, invested in the latest equipment, and even started offering additional services such as dry-cleaning and folding.
Where did the name laundromat come from?
The term laundromat seems like a pretty appropriate name for a place where people can do laundry. But the history behind the term is more interesting than the name may let on. In reality, ‘laundromat’ was originally a trademarked term of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Due to the growing popularity of these public amenities, the trademarked term ended up becoming the commonplace word used to refer to these places. Similar to the terms Kleenex and Jell-O, laundromat became the standard reference for what originally was called a “washateria”. Although laundromat is the standard term throughout the United States, there are some places in Texas where the term “washateria” is still in use.
If you’re looking for a convenient place to clean your clothes, visit Laundry Locations for a detailed list of laundromats in your area.