The author, Charlene Roise, is President of the historical consultants Hess Roise.

The laundry building, con't.
A preservation historian on the architecture

more Commercial Laundries: Operation and Design
Before I get to the specific example of the Seattle Empire, I would like to talk about early twentieth-century laundries in general. The commercial laundry industry was born and rapidly matured in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the process, it developed its own infrastructure of equipment manufacturers and distributors, soap and chemical suppliers, trade associations, and educators such as Lydia Ray Balderston, who published a book entitled 'Laundering' in 1914.

The title page credits Balderston as an "Instructor of Laundering" at the Teachers' College of Columbia University in New York City. She provides an in-depth description of the laundering process, which basically involved four steps. The plan of a hotel laundry from a turn of the century magazine, National Laundry Journal, illustrates the basic process.

First, the dirty laundry was marked to identify its owner and sorted by fabric and type of item. Next, the laundry was washed by large cylindrical machines, after which the wet goods were transferred to extractors (see picture above left) where moisture was removed by centrifugal force. This is the equivalent of the spin cycle in modern washers.

The items were then dried, sometimes by being placed in a heated drying room, and, finally, "finished," which might entail starching, ironing, folding, and mending.

Right is another central piece of equipment, an ironing 'mangle'. Authors such as Balderston spent a good deal of time describing the ideal facilities for both home and commercial laundries. A few passages from her book outline the main concerns associated with commercial laundry design:

"The whole room or rooms should be built with the idea of good ventilation and good light, and with every consideration that will promote the best sanitary conditions...If the plant is very extensive, it naturally must reach in height, and in this case the division of department is brought about by having each department on a floor by itself. Height of building overcomes expense of land, but of course involves expense of elevators and lifts, as well as more supervision by heads of departments...The windows in the laundry should be large, and for extra ventilation a transom over each. This transom allows fresh air to enter the laundry without the hindrance of this air blowing directly on the work, which not only dries the garment about to be ironed, but cools the iron...

"Driers that are like rooms should be ventilated to allow escape for moisture and steam, and to increase the ventilation, those that do the most rapid drying are equipped with an electric fan..."

"The ironing section of the room should have good light, because of the uncertainty of scorching clothes, as well as being able to see when the wrinkles are ironed out."

Some general information on real - versus academically ideal - laundry facilities is provided by contemporary government reports. The coming of age of the commercial laundry industry was in 1907, when it was found by the U.S. Department of Commerce to be of sufficient importance to merit an industrial census. Six years later, in the year that the Empire Laundry was built, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics studied women workers in power laundries in Milwaukee.

The laundry industry in that city was felt to be representative of other urban areas throughout the country. Of the 31 laundries in Milwaukee at that time, only 13 were in buildings specifically designed for that purpose. Others were located in reconstructed houses or modified commercial buildings. Despite their relatively small number, the 13 purpose-built laundries "employed 70 per cent of all the power-laundry workers in Milwaukee and did approximately 80 per cent of all the laundry work done in the city.