The Invention of the Laundromat

ByVivian McNeil


Wash-a-teria, the first laundromat, (although it was not called by this name at the time of its invention), opened its doors in Fort Worth Texas, in 1934 by J.F. Cantrell. Four washing machines lined his store, with Cantrell charging by the hour for use of these precious devices. Quickly catching on, these laundry stores gained popularity in the Depression era of the 1930’s. Although the personal washing machine had been invented way before this, most people could not afford their own washing appliance. Coin operated laundromats have never lost their endurance with their economical convenience even until today.

Kevin Greenwald claims that his father, Harry Greenwald, was the first person to coin the word, laundromat. Living in an apartment house in Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1940’s, Harry noticed that very few people in his building owned their own washing machines and were still using the old-fashioned washboard methods of cleaning their washables. Harry received permission from the owner of his building to put a coin meter (charging 25 cents) on a washing machine which he set up in the building’s basement. In a short time, tenants were lining up to use the machine.  Harry then, with permission of the landlord, purchased several more machines, and those were constantly in use. This was when he realized that he had hit upon something very big.

Harry Greenwald got the idea of the name “Laundromat” from his favorite Times Square lunch hangout, the Horn & Hardart Automat restaurant. For those too young to remember this New York City icon, I will explain its workings from my own personal experience. Glass door cabinets covered the walls of the restaurant (precursors to the sophisticated hot food vending machines of today). The consumer dropped a coin into a slot and chose his entree as the door unlocked. Harry combined the words, laundry with automat, and that is how the laundromat got its name.

Harry had little interest in opening stores and decided instead to manufacture the meters themselves. He went on to form Greenwald Company, aka, Greenwald Industries, in l954, which became the largest manufacturer of coin meters for washers, dryers and vending machines. This business is still running strong today.

Even though many more people today can afford their own washers and dryers, nevertheless there are many people who chose laundromats. High rise apartment complexes, both luxury and middle class, university towns and other cluster living locations are perfect examples of the need today of local laundromats. In the winter, the cost of personal washing appliances is especially high. It could take forever to dry heavy towels and linens in a home dryer. In order to keep the efficiency level high of home dryers, they should be serviced yearly by professional dryer vent cleaning services. Otherwise, the cost of home dryer service can break the bank. Also, in certain buildings there is a limit as to how much water and electricity an apartment owner or tenant can use.

Today’s pillows are manufactured with an option to wash and fluff them in the dryer. Especially with the danger of bedbugs, many people opt to use heavy duty mattress covers which they want to wash on a regular basis.  If a person has a heavy item such as a down or down alternative quilt, they will hesitate to wash it in their home machine, fearing rightfully so that the machine could break. To dry this same quilt in their home dryer would take a long time and sometimes a very heavy item could cause the dryer to malfunction. The worst-case scenario is that the dryer vent can get clogged from all the lint and cause a fire. Best practice is to make sure you clean the lint trap and get the dryer vents cleaned by a trusted expert.

Financially comfortable individuals living in luxury condos or coops opt to take their heavy towels, high thread count sheets and fluffy comforters to a laundromat. The stacked washer and dryers that are allowed in these apartments would never be compatible with their fancy laundry items. These fussy patrons would only frequent a certain type of laundromat.

Check out the outdoor patio, indoor potted plants, and upstairs cafe serving organic kombucha (a fermented, sweetened black or green tea drink commonly consumed for its supposed health benefits) at, Celsious, the newest and poshest establishment in a storefront in Williamsburg, New York. Labeled a meditation and mindfulness hub with soft palette colors and cool furniture this laundromat is the newest, sleekest and cleanest hangout in town

Celsious is one of newest takes on the old-fashioned laundromat opening in selected areas around the country. Signs advertise cold brew tea and coffee, organic pastry and twenty percent savings on soap.  How could this be a place to come to wash and dry your clothes?

Enter the two Williams sisters into the twenty-first century laundry market. Theresa and Corinna Williams moved to New York from their hometown in Germany about five years ago. Theresa, a successful fashion designer and Corinna, a journalist who worked as a fashion editor for Elle and Harper’s Bazaar, saw a unique opportunity waiting to be executed in the city of dreams.

Brand new shiny Electrolux washers and dryers are lined up in the immaculately decorated space. The contrast between the stainless steel of the appliances and the soft cozy coral and warm yellow colors on the walls, imbues the warm and welcoming feeling that Celsious wants to convey. With German precision the sisters think in Celsius measurements, not Fahrenheit.  Zero degrees in Celsius is the freezing point. Utilizing the accurate degrees in Celsius rather than hot, cold and warm notations for washing specific items, gives the specific temperatures that clothes need to be washed at. The sisters changed the spelling slightly so people can find their amazing website easily.

Guest launderers pay per wash the same way as any other laundromat and get a free cup of environmentally safe laundry detergent as a gift. There is also a trained staff wearing specially designed aprons who will do your laundry for you at an additional cost. According to the Williams sisters, “Laundry is a natural extension of the mindfulness that people are not aware of yet.” Their slogan is, “airing your dirty laundry in public just got a whole lot more stylish”.

Mindfulness is the newest psychological phenomena today. Living and enjoying the present moment will make anyone’s life and obligations more meaningful. Praying with mindfulness is one important example. How many people’s minds wander while praying?  A significant spiritual moment which can suspend a person into a consciousness of just being in the present is therapeutic in more than just the spiritual sense.

Mindfulness is much more than a religious experience. For those beings who were not brought up in a religious environment, living and appreciating the present is indeed a gift. Whether it’s enjoying what you are eating while sitting down and concentrating or focusing on your work at your job, slowing down and being in the moment is beneficial for all. An unpleasant task like laundry can become enjoyable as well. By slowing down and making laundry a ritual, you can practice mindfulness at the laundromat.

Health coach, Buffy Owens, claims that she loved to do laundry. “The key to making laundry a simple ritual is simply, SLOWING down and paying attention”. She says that the next time you do your laundry, slow the pace down about 25%, pause and observe the process of sorting, putting the clothes in the washer and dryer, folding them and putting them away. Instead of worrying about what chores you must do in the future, pause and relax while doing your laundry.  How much is a twenty percent slowdown? It’s up to the individual to figure this out for themselves. It is certainly not an exact science. You will know when you have reached the right level of mindfulness. Here are two examples of lack of mindfulness and true mindfulness.

Go back to the time you were sitting in your high school classroom. Were you there in a mental sense or only physically? Many of us would have to admit that we were thinking about other things while sitting in class. We were not practicing mindfulness.

Go back just a couple of weeks to the 2020 Super Bowl. Were the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs practicing mindfulness? You bet they were. There was nothing on each player’s mind but the play they were in. This is the perfect example of being in the present and practicing mindfulness.

So how can a launderer pay attention at the laundromat?  I predict that if it hasn’t happened yet, it will that while you are waiting for your clothes to wash and dry instead of “venting” your frustrations at having to wait around for your items to be laundered, you can join an aerobics class that is timed exactly to the time it takes for your wash to be dried, or you can have that great cup of java and a rhubarb rose tart at Celsious. So, wake up and smell the coffee the next time you wash and dry your laundry.

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