A “laundromat” is no more a “laundry” than a “cafeteria” is a “cafe.”

Many people seem to confuse “laundromats” with “laundries” even though there is  a world of difference between them.  Many early Chinese immigrants operated “laundries” from the last quarter of the 19th century well into the middle of the 20th century.  At first, these were hand laundries but eventually many of them adopted steam powered presses and washing machines in place of scrub boards and heavy charcoal heated hand irons. In either case, the Chinese laundryman washed and ironed the clothing items for the customers.

hand laundry -1shirt sleevepressgfather

arthur leipzig Ideal Laundry, Brooklyn?1946

Ideal Hand Laundry, Arthur Leipzig, 1946

Today, these  full service “laundries”  have been largely replaced by “laundromats” and home washing and drying equipment. Laundromats are designed for customer self-service  and use coin-operated individual machines. They provide no ironing equipment or services.

 laundromat

laundromats

Nonetheless, the tendency to use the term, “laundromat,”  as an equivalent of laundry persists. I wonder if ‘cafeteria’ will come to substitute for ‘cafe’ someday!

2 Comments

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2 responses to “A “laundromat” is no more a “laundry” than a “cafeteria” is a “cafe.”

  1. That nighttime laundromat photo is an artwork by artist Lori Nix titled “Laundromat at Night” from 2008. She creates these very detailed and intricate miniature model/dioramas, photographs them and then destroys the model. Off topic, I know, but I just wanted to identify and provide credit that artist’s work. Thanks, John, for your great work in documenting Chinese laundry history.

  2. Thanks Amy,for providing this credit…I was totally unaware of this interesting background of the laundromag image…and thanks for your support. YOUR POST of the Atlas Obscura post was very effective in eliciting valuable info from “Adult children of Chinese laundry families”..at least for NYC!

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