The Invention of the Laundromat

A couple of businessmen had the idea of opening a store where people could do their laundry. But would anyone want to wash their dirty underwear in public?

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Prior to World War II, many Americans relied on commercial laundries. But many of these closed during the war, leaving households without washers or dryers. Then, along came laundromats.

This excerpt is from “The Washing Machine Goes Juke-Box” by Robert M. Yoder, May 4, 1946.

It was a sort of cafeteria, serve-yourself establishment, where women could do the family washing in machines that operated on the quarter-in-the-slot basis. The only thing that could go wrong was the whole idea of doing the washing in a public place. Most of the men they talked to agreed that women would never go for it. After all, the old reproach about washing one’s dirty linen in public suggests laundry is something done appropriately only in the privacy of the home, perhaps like taking a bath.

Yet so many customers turned out for the opening that police had to handle the traffic, and it was decided to put the Launderette on an appointment basis. Customers sign up for a given period on a given day, reserving machines as you might reserve a table in a restaurant.


First page of the Post article, The Washing Machine Goes Juke Box
Read “The Washing Machine Goes Jukebox” by Robert M. Yoder from the May 4, 1946, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

This article is featured in the May/June 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Gus Pasquarella for The Saturday Evening Post

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  1. I remember being so excited when our neighborhood on the West side of Chicago got a Laundromat! Prior to its opening I had to lug our weekly laundry to have it washed, dried, and folded to our neighborhood commercial laundry. Sometimes they would deliver it if you had a lot to carry. But when the Laundromat opened it made life easier as a load could be done anytime. My only other option would have been to do our laundry at my Mom’s and use her wringer washer…

  2. I was raised in an orphans home in Fort Worth, Texas It is my understanding the the first washateria (laundromat
    was started in Fort Worth, Texas located across from the County home where I lived. I worked in this place for awhile


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