Politics and Chinese Laundries!

Here’s a little light-hearted  Trivia Quiz about how Chinese laundries were connected with American politics!

1. What American presidential candidate voted (presumably for himself) at a polling place in a Chinese laundry?

roosev vote

2. Where did the Republicans nominate a Chinese laundryman in 1900 for City Council (where they felt he could win against two competing Democratic candidates)?

Joseph Quong runs city council Toledo 19003. The Sam Wah Laundry occupied the first capitol building of which state?

colorado cap

Early Charlotte Chinese Laundries

A Charlotte Chinese Laundry Before 1900

As in many other cities and towns in the Deep South, Chinese laundries existed well before 1900. Loo Sam, age 40, and a partner, Loo Show, age 36, probably a relative, operated one of the earliest Chinese laundries in Charlotte at 219 N. Tryon St.  In an 1891 newspaper advertisement, they promoted their laundry service as “neat, prompt, satisfaction guaranteed or no charges.”

loo sam ldy

However, a white-owned rival laundry, the Charlotte Steam Laundry, presented serious competition for Loo Sam and other laundries.  Their advertisement in 1891 promised their wagon would pickup and delivery at any time to any part of the city.

World View  and Social Life

In an interview in 1894 with Loo Sam and Ying, his new assistant, the newspaper reporter asked how they felt about the war between China and Japan.  They stated that Charlotte Celestials were indifferent or uninterested in the conflict, which Ying said was “none of my business.”

A newspaper article in 1901 described a social visit when Low Sam and his assistant Wun Lung hosted a “whole family of their own race.”  Chin Lee  and his wife  came with their children from Salisbury, N. C., where they had operated a laundry for 6 years to spend  two weeks while they searched for a new location in Charlotte.  The writer of the article exuded over the playfulness of their 5 year old son and how much joy he brought to the laundrymen who, as the journalist noted, had few opportunities to enjoy the company of Chinese children.

The Disappearance of One Laundryman in 1906

The operation of Loo Sam laundry, at some point, was taken over by Charlie Lum, perhaps due to Loo Sam’s retirement.  In 1906, however, Charlie Lum inexplicably disappeared and in so doing created a quandary for his customers. A newspaper article entitled “The Collarless Multitude” described the predicament they were in because they could not decipher the Chinese writing on the laundry tickets so it was going to be difficult to get the laundry items distributed to the proper owners.

Welcome for New Chinese Laundries in Charlotte

Although Chinese were targets of racial discrimination at this time in many parts of the United States, the prevailing reception for Chinese laundrymen around the turn of the twentieth century in Charlotte seems to have been positive as several new laundries opened to welcoming comments.  The headline in the Charlotte Observer for March 25, 1908 proudly proclaimed, ‘Chinese Laundry to Open,” in anticipation of an American-born Chinese, Jon Gee, who was about to start a new laundry in a store room.  The writer endorsed the arrival of this new laundry by stating, “Patrons of laundries well remember former institutions conducted by Chinese in this city and those who are inclined to this method of stiffening linen will probably give Mr. Gee a whack at their bundles.”

In 1908, the Charlotte Observer announced that Charlie Wing and his assistant, who had a laundry in Winston Salem, were coming to open one in Statesville.

“The washing will be done by hand and the ironing by machine.  The foreigners are agreeable fellows and will doubtless do a big business.  They do not belong to the laundry union, and their prices are lower than those of the steam laundries of the State which belong to the laundry association…”

In 1914, the Charlotte Observer announced “New Laundry Here” when Mr. Benj. D. Fong opened his laundry at 233 N. Tryon St., which was described as the third Chinese laundry in the city.