CHICAGO — If you know your industry history, answer this: How long has the coin laundry industry been in existence? The industry has just added another year, and is closing in on a milestone. If you guessed that the industry hit 74 this month, pat yourself on the back.
Doing your laundry took a different turn on April 18, 1934. The first public, self-operated laundry in the United States opened its doors, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
There is, as you might imagine, some debate on the topic. Some believe the first laundry opened in Texas, although some will argue it happened in Indiana.
The early facilities were not necessarily coin-operated, and there was always an attendant on duty. The early stores were also open specific hours, and some even required that you make an appointment.
“Washateria” was a common name, but it was eventually replaced by “Laundromat.” This was a registered trademark by Westinghouse Electric, a subsidiary of White Consolidated Industries, on Oct. 1, 1947. Westinghouse listed the word as first being used in commerce in 1940. Southwestern Bell added the category “Washateria” to its Yellow Pages in 1947, and three years later, it changed the heading to “Laundries — Self Service.”
Bendix Appliances invented the automatic washing machine in 1937, and by the late 1940s, the first unattended 24-hour stores opened. Nelson Puett is credited with opening the first unattended, 24-hour store in Austin, Texas.
The coin laundry industry grew at a stable pace, and it was reported that there were 4,000 Laundromat, laundrette, laundreeze, and assorted self-service stores nationwide by 1950.
Today, it’s estimated that there are between 30,000 and 35,000 coin laundries.