More dry cleaner bags

Nowadays the dry cleaner bags I get are always clear, but until the 1980s they were usually printed with advertising. Even though the bags are flimsy and disposable, we often get donations come to the museum in old dry cleaner bags that feature colourful advertising and interesting graphics. I used to just throw them out without thinking twice, but then I realized that if we don’t document them, nobody will remember, so I now photograph all the bags that come in with donations and then thrown them out (they tend to be brittle or sticky, and filthy, so not keepable). A few years ago I photographed a mid 1960s bag that had a statement about not letting your child play with them – but these ones have no such warnings:

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