Timeline: 1950s & 1960s

Ian P. Murphy |

1950sThe postwar economic boom spreads into drycleaning, ushering in its most prosperous era in history. More plants race to handle the shirts, suits and millinery of America’s growing middle class, and suburban wives embrace new styles of dress and décor that call for new services. A can-do spirit pervades the nation and the industry. [NP][/NP]1950 — An informal poll finds that readers guess they pay $3.00 per year for subscriptions to American Drycleaner; the magazine is always free... Vic introduces Special Per machine for small plants... NIDC convention at Chicago’s Navy Pier features record 55,000 square feet of exhibit space... Claims average 1.5% of costs.[NP][/NP]1951 — NIDC convention crowns “Miss Drycleaner’s Dream”... California and Oklahoma institute price controls for drycleaning... The latest Census figures say there are 24,000 plants in the U.S., 17,000 gross less than $500 per week, and about 30% use the “synthetic” solvent, perc... Scientist proposes standards for rayon fabrics.[NP][/NP]1952 — Korean War renews calls for scrap metal... Annie Laurie Willard, a countergirl at Eureka Dry Cleaners in Wilmington, N.C., wins American Drycleaner’s “Best Bust” contest with 36.5-24-36.5 measurements; first prize is a  pastel sweater... Experimentation begins on ultrasonic cleaning process... Cartoons become a regular feature in the magazine, reflecting good times.[NP][/NP]1953 — Synthetic fibers such as Acrilan, Dacron and Vicara gain popularity... Summer becoming “extinct” with air conditioning... Employee turnover routinely estimated at 100% per year... Drycleaning business worth $1.27 billion annually; 60% of business comes in over the counter.1954 — Textile detective Hawkshaw Holmes returns to solve a case of “dyes on the run”... Up to 20,000 cleaners nationwide now offer one-hour, five-hour or same-day service... Mamie Eisenhower donates wedding gown to the Smithsonian, still clean and boxed after 30 years... Today’s “Mr. Cleaner U.S.A.” is typically a family man; 80% own their own homes.[NP][/NP]1955 — “World’s Smallest Shirt Laundry” opens outside main plant in an 8-foot-by-10-foot building... Mention of an outsized pair of pants inspires readers to send in pictures of themselves modeling customers’ large-size garments; Pennsylvania’s DuBois Cleaners processes pants with 69-inch waistband... National convention in Chicago features window-dressing  ideas from J.M. Friedlander... Sales grow nearly a third in a single year... ROTC volunteers clean world’s largest flag on University of Michigan football field using sawdust and 400 gallons of Detrex trichloroethylene.[NP][/NP]1956 — American Drycleaner increases size 1/2 inch on each side to match Reader’s Digest... Mylar, Orlon, Arnel and Dynel among the synthetic fabrics hitting stores... National convention in Dallas stresses “Big Ideas”... 20% of cleaners added shirt service over the last two years; 83% now offer it.1957 — Cleaners nationwide sponsor a clothing drive benefiting Hungarians following revolt against Soviet rule... Fact Finder service debuts, making it effortless for drycleaners to request product information from manufacturers... Price increases help cleaners realize better sales, profits... 38% of customers report patronizing only cleaners that offer trading stamps such as S&H Green Stamps.[NP][/NP]1958 — In spite of recession, industry sales drop just 1.1% in first half; suburban growth, creative merchandising credited.1959 — Laundry services — coin-op, wash-and-fold and shirts — are valuable sidelines and key to winning more drycleaning business... National Institute of Drycleaning (NID) holds convention back-to-back with AIL’s in Atlantic City... Cleaners warn customers of suffocation risk with use of poly bags, urging parents to keep them away from children.1960sWith consumers eager for space-age products and fine clothing, coin-op drycleaning machines represent a huge threat to the industry at the beginning of the decade. Full-service drycleaning wins out in the end, however, and the industry enjoys its most successful decade to date. But as the counterculture grows more powerful at the end of the ’60s, drycleaning comes face-to-face with another, more formidable enemy—permanent press. [NP][/NP]1960 — Coin-operated drycleaning is expected to take the nation by storm; as many as 1,000 outlets may open this year using Norge and Whirlpool units. While many see it as a threat, “A few lipstick loads will cure a lot of people,” one drycleaner says... Permanent pleats foreshadow wash-and-wear boom... American Drycleaner’s circulation tops 30,000.1961 — A snowstorm in Philadelphia keeps attendance at NID’s convention under 13,000... Cleaners slash prices to compete with self-service drycleaning... “Sure Care” garment labels premiere, winning Good Housekeeping Seal... Dupont promises 15-minute cycles with new Valclene solvent... Neckwear manufacturer Countess Mara introduces scented neckties.[NP][/NP]1962 — Miss Sunglow crowned in Qualitex promo... Tremont Cleaners in Upper Arlington, Ohio, takes Grand Prize in American Drycleaner’s first annual Plant Design Awards... Maytag introduces electronic card-payment system for coin-op laundry machinery... Adco’s “Miracle Method” used exclusively at Seattle World’s Fair... VW begins advertising its Microbus as a route vehicle... Coin-op drycleaning suffers setback from regulators demanding that automated systems be controlled as strictly as professional plants.[NP][/NP]1963 — American Drycleaner awards four full scholarships to NID’s General Drycleaning course... The average base price for cleaning a man’s two-piece suit is $1.50... NID sponsors first Good Grooming Week... Wallis Cleaners takes Plant Design Award with ultramodern plant... Shirt laundry booming with increases in white-collar employment... Government estimates say that the industry has grown 60% in the last eight years.1964 — Consumers see the industry as “reactionary,” says an NID report led by Ernest Dichter... Educator Harold Newcomer and former AIL counselor Marcia Miller join American Drycleaner staff... 70,000 visit international exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany.1965 — Norman Vincent Peale speaks at NID’s convention in Atlantic City, N.J., emphasizing power of positive thinking... With drycleaning workers making $2,969 per year, only newsboys make less, says a wage survey from the Department of Labor... Industry associations AIL, NID and the Laundry & Cleaning Allied Trades Association (LACATA) sponsor three shows in the Midwest in less than six months, causing convention fatigue.[NP][/NP]1966 — Sanitone features licensees in campaign in major consumer magazines such as Look, Vogue and Good Housekeeping... Best coin-op promotion of the year invites Brooklyn’s Gaiety Burlesque dancers to rehearse while laundering costumes... More than 150,000 women now work in drycleaning... Workers strike at plants in Florida and Ohio... Paul Glaman succeeds Kenn Jacobs as editor.[NP][/NP]1967 — First federal minimum wage set at $1.00... AIL and NID hold conventions back-to-back in Cleveland... Star Cleaners dresses woman in nothing but a poly bag for a promotion... Conveyors are this year’s must-have equipment... Drycleaners check insurance policies following race riots in Detroit, New York, Milwaukee and other cities.1968 — Industry sales up 42% since 1957... Unions organize plants in Chicago and Detroit.1969 — Humorist Art Buchwald finds there’s nothing miraculous about the new “miracle” fibers... NID convention in Atlantic City hosts executives from the USSR’s state-owned drycleaning business... Volume up 4.5% in spite of permanent-press “revolution” in garments.Timeline:
1930s &1940s — 1950s & 1960s — 1970s & 1980s — 1990s & 2000s

About the author

Ian P. Murphy

American Drycleaner

Ian P. Murphy is a freelance writer based in Chicago, and was the editor of American Drycleaner from 1999 to 2011.


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