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

11 thoughts on “Dry Cleaning – Pearl Laundry

  1. 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. 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. Chris Uttley here. Libby is my sister! If you ever decide to sell those Pearl Laundry hangars, I would be very interested. I dont have any artifacts from Pearl Laundry at all, so those would be neat!

    • Hi Chris;
      I believe we have a duplicate. I could part with one for a donation to the Fashion History Museum. (curator@fashionhistorymuseum.com)

  4. My grandfather Jack Mahn worked at Pearl Laundry for many years until his retirement. He also lived in one of the apartments above the laundry. He was responsible for keeping the coal hopper filled during the winter which heated the building and all of the apartments above the laundry. I remember going with him many times through the front door on the right of the laundry, down the stairs and into the back to fill the hopper and stir the ashes in the two furnaces. The trip always included my choice of a kiss soft drink from the cooler in the basement of the laundry. This was a big deal to a little 6 year old in the mid 50’s. We were also told the story many times how my grandfather pressed the monogrammed handkerchiefs of Louis Armstrong, the famous trumpet player , who performed across the street from a Pearl at Summer Gardens in the original Kitchener Auditorium. Louis would stay at the Walper Hotel and send his laundry to Pearl. Every Christmas the city would string Christmas lights from my grandparent’s bedroom window in the Pearl Apartments to the Pet Store across the street. ( Now a restaurant.) we were always excited to see the lights because we knew Christmas was just around the corner. Whenever I drive by Pearl Laundry on Queen Street my thoughts always go back to my childhood with my grandparents and the great times we had in that building.

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