CHICAGO, Ill. — Take a bow if you knew last Wednesday was a significant industry day. 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.
Some believe the first laundry opened in Texas, although some will argue it happened in Indiana, according to the government.
The early facilities, while open to the public, 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.
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.
“Washateria” was a common name, and 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,” which remains the title to this day.
The coin laundry industry grew at a stable pace, and it was reported that there were 4,000 Laundromats, laundrettes, laundreezes, and assorted self-service stores nationwide by 1950.
Today, it’s estimated that there are between 25,000 and 35,000 coin laundries.