Dry Cleaning – Pearl Laundry

I am often asked “How did they used to keep their clothes clean?” Various forms of dry cleaning have been around for centuries, and many garments such as wool suits were wet washed that today we wouldn’t consider washable. The origins of modern dry-cleaning date to the middle of the 19th century when non water-based solvents like mineral spirits (turpentine) were used to clean garments. The less flammable Tetrachloroethene (aka perchloroethylene) displaced mineral spirits in the 1930s.

Pearl Laundry Company hangers, Kitchener, Ontario, 1920s (The date of the hangers can be determined by the 4 digit phone number – 4 digits were displaced by 3 letter, 4 digit phone numbers in the early 1930s)

I have been collecting hangers for a while, and so I thought I would start researching the history of some of the establishments that printed their company name on the hangers. There used to be many independent laundries who offered wet-cleaning services for garments like men’s shirts, collars, and cuffs, and diapers, as well as dyeing (and bleaching) services. Dry cleaning required using flammable solvents, and many cities required the cleaning process to be done outside of city limits. Because of this, the dry cleaning industry was one of the first to become operated by large companies who had a central facility for cleaning outside city limits and multiple store fronts within the city.

The Pearl Laundry Company was founded by David Charles Knipfel, at 90 Queen Street South, in Kitchener. The c. 1918 building, with its name set in stone, still stands. The business was sold in 1946 to Abraham S. Uttley, who had founded his cleaning and dyeing firm Berlin Dye Works, in 1905.

Photo of Abraham S. Uttley sorting shirts after they had been washed, steam pressed and folded

(Addendum: Libby Wheeler and Jim Uttley, grandchildren of Abraham Uttley, wrote with memories of working for their grandfather steam pressing men’s shirts or using the mangle to iron the sheets and towels from local hotels. Libby supplied the above image. She also supplied this local newspaper article about her grandfather from 1969.)

Uttley resold Pearl Laundry in 1966 to Newtex Ltd., but continued to work with the new owners until his 90th birthday in 1969. Newtex currently operates three dry cleaning locations in Kitchener, but the former Pearl Laundry location is no longer one of them.

Pearl Laundry Company, built c. 1918, 90 Queen Street South, Kitchener, Ontario

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
This entry was posted in Canadian dress, Vintage Cleaning tips and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Dry Cleaning – Pearl Laundry

  1. John Buckberrough says:

    I was told (by someone in the real estate business, I think) that the careless handling of “perc” ads a greater risk of environmental contamination and remediation requirements to the sale of these properties than that of former gas station locations which typically have a three year clean-up cycle.

  2. Elizabeth (Uttley) Wheeler says:

    It was lovely to see this article. Abraham Uttley was my grandfather, and working in the laundry was my first job. I had to shake out the sheets that were tangled from the washer, before they were put in the dryer. It was hot, hard work, and I punched a time clock and earned 25 cents per hour.

    I have several K-W Record articles about my grandfather, who, having worked for 77 years, was still working at age 90, and was called “the elder statesman” of the dry cleaning, dyeing and laundry industry.

    I tried to post a photo here, but was unsuccessful.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Sounds like hard work!

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