were only part of why the public paid attention. They also nursed
well-founded fears concerning laundry sanitation; "progressive"
citizens feared the possible spread of serious health problems.
were correct, too. For in the laundries, in high temperatures
with poor ventilation, soiled and sometimes infectious fabrics
were continually handled and mingled. Along with goods from
hotels, restaurants and rooming-houses, many commercial laundries
dealt with goods from hospitals. Nor could a laundry really
police the choice of goods they handled; drivers on commission
frequently took up "bundles" where they could.
power laundry industry evolved its own distinct vocabulary,
based around the types of services it offered - and their
varied costs. A "wet wash" laundry merely washed
the goods; a "dry wash" laundry washed and dried
but did not iron (or "finish") them. The "soft
finish" laundry dried all clothing but ironed only "flatwork"
(towels, blankets, linens). "Rough dry" was a category
where starch had been used but no ironing done. The "full
finish" service meant each article of clothing had been
starched and completely ironed.
(listing and sorting) such goods was the laundry's easiest
job and the first stop on a bundle's odyssey. Although it
was considered the highest class of laundry work, marking
was also dangerous. This was not just because of possible
contagion or the fact work was carried out in humid, damp
premises. A marker handled circa 5,000 pounds of dirty laundry
a week, creating an identifying mark with a pen, small stitches
or a pinned-on tag.
that marker's hands became covered by tiny pinpricks. One
"safety" gesture recommended to laundry managers
was the provision of open basins of water - into which had
been dropped bichloride of mercury. Markers were to dip their
hands in these basins every so often, ostensibly to protect
their abrasions from infection. At the time, no-one understood
mercury to be highly toxic. Yet markers had one of the higher
turnover rates inside the laundry.
A laundry's women workers labored in overheated rooms and
fiery basements, operating heavy equipment, plunging their
hands into water laced with soaps, caustic chemicals and the
"bluing" needed to keep much washing white. Washers
slopped their chemicals and boiling water onto floors and
some women often worked standing in this, or on wet concrete.
Few amenities were available to the laundry worker; there
were few sanitary arrangements and rarely changing rooms.
At Seattle Empire, there were just two tiny toilets - each
of them located in the basement level.
shifts were long and tedious; machinery could be heavy and
dangerous. The mangle, a large mechanical ironing-machine
for flatwork, required a team of six women to manage its hot,
padded rollers. Heavy, wet laundry was also placed by women
into extractors - huge drums which spun fabrics to remove
the excess moisture. Those tightly intertwined goods produced
by an extractor had to be shaken free by teenage girls: exhausting
work always done standing on one's feet.
was mixed, then boiled up, in a kettle or a "starch cooker".
It would be applied by hand to the finer items - which were
then left isolated in the drying-room. Later, the garments
or collars would be hand-ironed or pressed by machine then
almost the same time Seattle Empire opened, the ten year-old
Laundry added a 80' x 42' second story to its 119' x 160'
premises. This entire area, noted Pacific Laundryman, was
built to be a starch room, with "considerable new machinery
of the latest design". The manager gave the magazine
some daunting statistics: his girls handled "16,000 collars
and 4,000 shirts" per week, requiring an army of delivery
vehicles ("ten delivery autos, fourteen wagon and a boat
on Lake Washington").
yearly Directories of Washington Manufacturers indicate that
Seattle Empire consistently employed as many or very nearly
as many employees as Supply Laundry. Thus its laundry girls
handled just as many collars and shirts.
large power laundries used specialized
machines were to starch and iron collars, cuffs, gentlemans
shirts and womens shirtwaists. At Seattle Empire Laundry,
different tasks were on different floors: deliver, washing,
and extracting took place in the basement and first floor;
drying, starching and ironing took place on the second.
top floor was used for "storage"; it became a fully
functioning part of the laundry only in 1923 (City Permit
#227730). Most probably the sorting and marking first took
place in the front basement area directly below the Will Call
office. In May of 1923, sorting was moved to the second floor
- a clothes chute was cut in the ceiling so marked goods could
be easily transferred downstairs (City Permit #224818).
Laundry workers were expected to finish all work before quitting.
They got no holiday pay, no vacation and reports of health
problems among them were continuous. In 1914, Caroline
J. Gleason completed a report on women's work lives for
the Industrial Welfare Commission. Her investigation, "On
the Wages, Conditions of Work and Cost and Standards of Living
of Women Wage Earners in Washington," concurred with grave
concerns about conditions in the laundries.
laundry itself would simply not go away - and the power laundries
were a fact of life in 1914. That year, the year D.C. Keeney
opened his new Seattle Empire, the University of Washington
launched its own "laundering course". An adjunct
to the domestic science curriculum, its aim was to acquaint
future housewives with power laundry technology.
1914 instructor took her students on a guided tour of Seattle's
busy Washington Laundry - which proved to be a sobering experience.
"Like the majority of people who have patronized steam
laundries year in and year out," reported Pacific Laundryman,
"the visitors had but little conception what laundering