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Life & Times in The Industry: Personal Memories from Those Who Were There

The idea of metal press pads was one Morris Rosenthal had while in the laundry business. Every Saturday, the pads needed to be changed because they were made of cotton and burned out in a week’s time. He went to the local hardware store and bought some steel wool, formed some padding and put them on the presses. Presto — the pads lasted for weeks.
The company started in the back of Sheridan Laundry and sold pads to the other laundries in the Chicago area. It became so successful that it bought a small building in 1941 or 1942 [and expanded again in the 1950s]. In 1948, I came to Resillo from Canada. My involvement was in developing stainless-steel pads from the steel-wool type to the foam-rubber pads and other padding. It was a challenge, but offered a great deal of satisfaction. This, to me, is a great industry.
 

Leo PearlResillo Press Pad Co.Lincolnwood, Ill.

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The best time in the industry was after World War II. All the boys came back, and the drycleaning industry went from a limited number of petroleum plants to what it is today. I got into the industry in 1943; I was 13 and started working as a delivery boy. At 15, I was full-time after school in a petroleum plant that had belt-driven belly washers, with caustic-soda clarification. Solvents have certainly improved since then.

Bill Seitz, former executive directorNational Cleaners Association (NCA)

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[NP][/NP][We] started in 1896 with Southside Laundry under my grandfather, Abner Luetzow, and with plastics coming on the scene, my father branched out in the early ’50s. Before that, it was all paper. Sometimes, there would be rattlesnakes in with the bags. They would store the plastic outside at the manufacturer, and snakes decided to make their homes in the bags.

Bruce LuetzowLuetzow IndustriesSouth Milwaukee, Wis.

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It was 1954 when I walked into the first cleaning plant my parents owned. I would get phone calls at school to come help my folks. I swept the floors, and put capes and cardboards on hangers. I was taught to operate the Prosperity cleaning machine; a big thrill was installing a Hoyt reclaimer so we could produce the work faster. I sold the last plant I’d ever own 53 years later.
Routes came, went, and came back again. New equipment made training unskilled employees easier. But the industry is still about product quality, customer service and convenience. Since I enjoy teaching people, it was a natural transition for me to become a consultant. And it’s always great when you can work at something you love.

Harvey GershensonConsultant

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When I was 12, [my father] wouldn’t give me an allowance; he said, “I’ll give you job.” All you had to do in those days was treat your customers and your employees well; at the end of the week, the numbers were there. There are an awful lot of people now who give the product away. There’s a difference between a cheap price and a great value.

Paul GelpiSwan CleanersColumbus, Ohio

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I started out in the industry unloading railcars. The full-timers were smart — they put the boss’ son out there. We would unload and cartons of carbon, and you’d be black head-to-toe when you were done.
Later, my territory was Missouri and Western Kansas. I use to call on one drycleaner as my last stop before I’d go home to Wichita. He was an older gentleman who had a great little plant. The law was that before I could leave, I had to sit down and drink a glass of Old Crow whiskey with him — and when he said “glass,” it was a water glass. Just for safety purposes, I changed my route so we wouldn’t have to drink before I got on the road.

Van Van DyneAdco Inc.Sedalia, Mo.

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I was 7 years old and standing in the boiler room at Reading Laundries between two huge 100-HP SteamMaster boilers. When those two monsters fired up, you could feel the pressure in the room, and the floor would rumble — scary and exciting to an impressionable little future drycleaner. Reading was part of the Mary MacIntosh chain, started in the late ’30s by Bruce MacIntosh and my great-uncle, Bill Silliman. By the late ’50s, their plants were processing $9 million to $10 million a year.
In 1958, the Reading plant (where my father was general manager) was doing more than $1 million a year, running two shifts and cleaning 15,000 lbs. a week in three 100-lb., open-pocket 104 machines. [It took] five double-buck shirt units to process 15,000 shirts a week, which at the time were all folded and boxed. Those were the days!

“Dryclean Dave” SillimanUptowne DrycleaningPhoenix, Ariz.

Click here for Part 1.
Click here for Part 3.
Click here for Part 4.
 

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