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On this day in history, April 18, first self-operated ‘washateria’ opens in Fort Worth, Texas

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Few people today would consider going to a laundromat a luxury.

But before the first laundromat — or “washateria,” as it was called back then — was created in the 1930s, that is exactly how the launch of automated laundry was viewed by many. 

On this day in history, April 18, 1934, the first “washateria” opened in Fort Worth, Texas, it is presumed, as created by a man named C.A. Tannahill.

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The “true history of laundromats” begins during the Great Depression, writes the Laundry Solutions Company on its website.

“The first laundromat, which was known at the time as a ‘Wash-a-teria,’ opened” in Fort Worth, it adds, “in the 1930s.” 

Laundry basket, liquid detergent and washing machine. The first “washateria” in the 1930s was far from a grand affair — but it solved a problem for many. And it led, eventually, to the creation of the coin-operated laundromat that we know today.  (iStock)

“Customers loved the self-service format of the store, and soon laundromats were exploding in popularity and popping up all over the country,” it says.

The first “washateria,” however, was far from a grand affair, according to various accounts.

It consisted of just four electric washing machines — which were rented out to members of the public on an hourly basis, according to RetroNewser.

“He charged people by the hour to clean their clothes.”

“The electric-powered washing machine, invented in 1908, was a great time- and sweat-saving device,” notes CoinWash.com — but there was a catch.

A woman is seen loading bedsheets into a washing machine. The very early laundromats did not have dryers. 

A woman is seen loading bedsheets into a washing machine. The very early laundromats did not have dryers.  (iStock)

The device was available only to “those who could afford it and [who] had regular electricity.”

Many in the Fort Worth community apparently did not fit that description.

So, in 1934, Tannahill bought four electric washing machines and installed them in the same building. 

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And “he charged people by the hour to clean their clothes,” the story goes.

These very early laundromats did not have dryers, for the most part — so customers would wash their clothes, then cart the wet, heavy items “back home to hang them on the line,” according to hammerapp.com, a laundry and dry cleaning service. 

Closeup shot of an unrecognizable woman carrying a pile of towels while doing laundry at home

Closeup shot of an unrecognizable woman carrying a pile of towels while doing laundry at home (iStock)

The name “washateria” came about as a combo of the idea of washing clothes with the idea of cheap, affordable cafeterias where many people got their meals, it also says.

The early facilities were not coin-operated — “and there was always an attendant on duty,” points out the Bronx Chronicle. 

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“By the late 1940s, the first unattended, 24-hour laundromats were opened.”

Today, most laundromats in the U.S. are fully automated, coin-operated and largely unstaffed — and many are open 24 hours a day.

“By the late 1940s, the first unattended, 24-hour laundromats were opened.”

Earlier figures of a few years ago cited by the United States Census Bureau put the estimated number of laundromats of this style in the U.S. at 11,000.

IbisWorld today puts the market size, measured by revenue, of the U.S. laundromat industry at $6 billion in 2023. 

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Today, however, the increase in utility costs has caused companies to leave the industry, according to the same source.

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The market size of the laundromat industry in the U.S. has declined 1.4% per year on average between 2018 and 2023, says IbisWorld.

It also says that laundromat sales have struggled because of increased competition, rising utility costs and changing consumer habits.



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