Sometime around the 1950s, laundry service became available for people who wanted to save some money and time washing and drying their clothes in small individual washing machines in “laundromats.” Initially, laundromats were entirely self-service but eventually some laundromats provided the option of having an attendant wash, dry, and fold the laundry for the customer.
Before the laundromat was ‘coined,’ so to speak, people either did their laundry at home or took it to a ‘full service’ laundry where you could have your laundry washed and ironed in a few days. For a while in the early 1900s, it was the primary self employment business for Chinese immigrants.
In the last half of the past century, laundries gradually disappeared as most homeowners own home washing machines and dryers. Laundromats still exist to serve apartment dwellers or others without their own machines. As a result, today, many people think that “laundry” and “laundromat” are interchangeable or equivalent terms. But that would be like thinking a meal prepared from scratch was the same as a frozen t. v. dinner. Nothing could be further from the truth!
It is interesting to add, however, that a specific laundry business might be converted into a laundromat over time. Thus, as demand for full service laundry diminished, one might convert a laundry into a less labor intensive laundromat. In the photograph below, Tom’s Laundromat in Washington, D. C. appears to be such an example (although I have no documentation). Notice that even though the primary, and hand painted, signage indicates it is a “laundromat,” a place which does washing and drying but no ironing, the faded signage at the top of the store window indicates it was once a full service “laundry.”