Seattle’s laundry workers lived almost like outcasts. Even today, these legions of power laundry workers are mostly nameless.

Yet, in 1917, it was these women who revolted, banding together to resuscitate a foundering union. Their singular strike established Local 24, but retaining this union would mean 15 years of struggle.

      A singular role in labor history & a double significance
The 1917 strike marked the first time ever that Seattle laundry owners had been forced to acknowledge a female union. That body was Local 24, by far the largest working women’s union in the city. (By 1925, it had become the largest local that could claim affiliation with the International Laundry Workers' organization.) For the next decade-and a-half, the laundrymen attempted to crush it - culminating with a battle royal during 1932.

The 1932 strike remains the most violent of laundry disputes and it was won by Seattle Empire Laundry. When laundry owners rejected the Mayor's arbitration, Local 24 called out the plant at Bell and Western. The walkout of its women ended the final laundry strike in Seattle's long labor history.

Starting in the late 1930s, the laundry industry changed dramatically, due to the popular domestic washing machine. Power laundries had serviced every level of the population but those laundries which followed became specialist operations. Because of this, the history of power laundries is now almost lost. Their struggles, accomplishments and economic role became unknown to the public – those who, in the past, so depended on them.

Despite its recent and disfiguring alterations (all begun after landmark status had been granted), the Seattle Empire Laundry speaks for past events - events which had deep effects upon the city, the region, even the nation. Those events concern not one, but two, Northwestern industries: the fur trade as well as the now-vanished commercial laundries.

Each involved notable persons as well as famous events.

The building embodies that trade which shaped the career of union great Dave Beck - who, in 1952, became General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Beck led that union through its fastest growth period, taking its membership from 78,000 to 1,580,000. As the dynamic boss of the Western Conference of Teamsters, he was for years Seattle’s only truly national figure. Both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman wanted Beck to serve as Secretary of Labor, but he declined both offers.

The laundry's story also features Dave Beck’s business antagonists, the powerful, organized "laundrymen" of Seattle. Seattle Empire Laundry's founder D. C. Keeney was succeeded as an owner by the tycoon John C. Hagen. Hagen, who amassed a local empire of laundries, proved to be one of Dave Beck's wiliest, most intransigent enemies.

From 1951 to 1977, however, the laundry played a special role in a different Northwestern trade. During that era, its life revolved around another local magnate: the Alaska Fur Company's founder James Branson Simpson.

Simpson bought the structure as a manufacturing plant. But it leapt to unexpected fame in 1955. That was the year of the national "Davy Crockett craze": to this day, America’s biggest media-driven sales phenomenon. During the height of America's Crockett-mania, the former laundry cranked out 5,000 "coonskin caps" per day. Simpson was quoted in Time magazine; he appeared on national television.

Thus the Seattle Empire Laundry embodies light as well as darkness; the deeply regional as well as the famously national; the history of actual everyday working lives and of TV mythology. Its history is to be found in archives and headlines, but also in letters and memories.

Yet the history also has a serious, living component: the workers' rights defended by the building's very earliest occupants.

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