The morning after peace was agreed in 1917, Seattle Empire Laundry workers were back at work.

The pace would continue for several years in their workplace and the name of the company would change. But when the right to organize was challenged again, it would involve more than workers and bosses.

This time, it involved two of Seattle’s rising stars.

    The laundries breed antagonists
  One of the ambitious duo was the businessman John C. Hagen, an actual instigator of the Laundry Owners’ cartel. Hagen was born in Bozeman, Montana in 1885 and moved to Seattle at the age of 23. His parents, born in Switzerland, both spoke German — and in his new home, their son employed a German-born maid.

Yet less than two years after his arrival in town, the restless Hagen had established a laundry of his own. Initially located on First Avenue, it was the Broadway Laundry Company.

As his involvement with the Laundry Owners’ Club attests, things went steadily well for this aspiring industrialist. In 1922, when D. C. Keeney retired, Hagen was able to buy the Seattle Empire Laundry business from him. (When Keeney subsequently died, in 1936, the building’s actual ownership was retained by his son, Seth C. Keeney).

To mark the landmark moment in his fortunes that the purchase symbolized, J. C. Hagen changed the Seattle Empire's name. On August 1, 1923, it became the Broadway Empire Laundry Company. The same day, Hagen changed the name of his original plant, the Broadway Laundry, to "Seattle Laundry Company". (In 1931, Hagen would re-name it yet again, as the Empire Laundry).

The purchase did indeed prove a notable moment. For Hagen — an early backer of laundry owners’ trusts — became much more than just an industry entrepreneur. Through subsequent takeovers of already established laundries, he himself built a personal cartel of laundry businesses. His drive, coupled with his scorn for unionization and labor, would create head-to-head conflict with Dave Beck.

Hagen’s acquisition of the Seattle Empire Laundry was one of his earliest clues that his business dream could be realized. He then became eager to try further expansion — and to situate himself with other owners, so this would be possible. Later in the same year that he acquired Seattle Empire, Hagen also purchased another successful laundry.

Thanks to the paternalistic nature of the industry, Hagen was able to slowly amass a de facto "empire." Eventually, his reach encompassed eight Seattle laundries - as well as separate laundry operations in Wenatchee, Spokane and Yakima.

As John C. Hagen rose, so did Dave D. Beck. Beck achieved elected union office just as the 1917 strike ended; on July 28, 1917, he was voted recording-secretary of Local 566.

But Beck then left to serve in the military for one year - from December, 1917 to December, 1918. As a member of the Naval Aviation Service, Beck trained in California and served in Killingholme, England.

Back in Seattle in 1918, he took a job driving for the Mutual Laundry. Beck was energetic and was rapidly promoted, from a mere driver to a route superintendent. At the same time, he was attracting notice within his union. The year Seattle Empire Laundry passed from D. C. Keeney to Hagen, Beck was elected President of Joint Council #28, an association of all the Teamster locals in Washington state.

In December, 1924, fifty drivers petitioned Beck to run as the business agent (or principal officer) of Local 566.

This would mean leaving his $110 per week driver’s job — for $40 per week paid by the union post. Beck later said the decision to make that sacrifice occasioned "the only fight I ever had with my first wife, and we were married 47 years." In the actual election, Beck defeated an 8-year incumbent, by a vote of 140 to 88.

Dave Beck was, at long last, the head of a union.

on to The rise of the laundry driver    

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