David Codding Keeney was the founder of the Seattle Empire Laundry, for which he commissioned the 1913 construction of a plant at 2301 Western.

Keeney was a Seattle pioneer who arrived in 1888 from Pennsylvania. By 1895, he had entered the laundry business; by 1900, Keeney was running his own hand laundry on First Ave.

     Seattle Empire Laundry: In the beginning
In 1905, D. C. Keeney established his own ‘power laundry,’ the Seattle Empire, at Fourth Ave. and Pine St. By 1913, this livelihood was expanding and he applied to the city - asking to alter his premises. When permission was denied, Keeney decided to move his business. He therefore commissioned the demolition of a two-story stable on Bell & Denny’s 1st Addition Block 29 Lot 12.

There, on land he had acquired as early as 1909, Keeney undertook to build a perfect modern laundry. It was at a moment when the industry flourished. So much that by the 1930s, years after he had retired, Keeney was still worth $142,000 - in mid-1990s terms, more than $4 million.

In 1914, when his new Seattle Empire opened, power laundries had been Seattle’s second largest industry for five years and Seattle Empire grew into the city's second-largest plant, employing almost 10% of the city’s laundry workforce. In their heyday such laundries, notes Dr. Arwen P. Mohun, were ubiquitous features of the urban landscape.

"With high demand for laundry services, rapid spread of the industry and relatively low startup costs," she writes on page 86 of Women, Work and Technology: The Steam Laundry Industry, "laundries were appealing investments for small entrepreneurs from the 1890s through the 1920s."

Seattle Empire's life as a laundry spanned the rise and transformation of this entire industry. It epitomized the power laundry – as a period industry staffed by women yet dominated by males. In 1914, in Washington, it employed 3,540 employees as "inside workers" (non-office, laboring staff almost all of whom were female).

At every level, laundry work required a female expertise: only women knew how to best handle, treat and protect the garments. On the other end, too, their work was judged by female customers.

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