Steam. The invention of the steam engine, and the improvements made to it in the 19th century, changed almost every industry in drastic ways.
In the case of commercial laundry services, steam became both the power behind the machinery and the non-chemical cleaning product used on the clothes themselves.
As the industrial revolution progressed, large cities found themselves with rather polluted and smoky air. Soot and unpleasant smells spoiled the clothing of the factory worker and the finely dressed barrister equally.
Here we had one industry offering solutions for some of the side effects of another, and profiting from this. Steam laundry services opened in Toronto in the 1870s and people from Barrie began to send bundles of their clothing to the city by train to have them professionally laundered.
In 1886, it was announced that a steam laundry was to open in Collingwood. On the surface, Barrie was about to have a much-desired service brought conveniently closer to home. However, our naturally competitive town was rarely pleased about being outdone by a neighbouring community.
“Do you wear shirts? Oh, you do, eh? I had forgotten that the only people who do not wear such things live in Collingwood or Owen Sound. By the way, where do you have them done up? Did you ever try the Barrie Steam Laundry? “
This cheeky little ad in the Barrie Examiner of Nov. 12, 1896 also reminded readers that local businesses like this should be supported “in preference to any outside concern” because to do otherwise would take money out of Barrie.
In 1897, the Barrie Steam Laundry was taken over by a pair of very enterprising brothers. Herbert and Fred Hughes were the sons of Nathaniel Hughes, who operated a grain and farm implements store on Bayfield Street.
Natural businessmen since birth it would seem, Herbert and Fred raised and sold chickens in childhood and then moved on to bee keeping. By their teen years, they had 160 hives and were known to have one of the best apiaries in Ontario.
When bicycles became the next big thing, the lads dove into the building and selling of the two wheeled conveyances. Their success allowed them to purchase the Barrie Steam Laundry and to renovate and upgrade the facility which was located at 105 Dunlop St. E.
The workings of the steam laundry were located in the basement of the building. An eight horse power engine was powered by a boiler located to the rear of the business.
“Clothes to be laundered are first put in a latest improved steam washer, and then into a new centrifugal wringer and extractor containing a perforated basket which makes about 1,400 revolutions per minute thus wringing the water out of the clothes without any friction to the latter.”
The Northern Advance further described a starching machine, five ironing machines, some solely dedicated to the ironing of shirt cuffs or collars, and a steam fed drying room.
On the street level, the Hughes brothers ran a combination laundry office and bicycle showroom. The top floor housed their bicycle factory.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Herbert Hughes was struck down by diabetes and died at the age of 26 years. Fred Hughes carried on until 1902 and then sold out, after which the entire Hughes family moved to Manitoba.
The Barrie Steam Laundry was briefly operated by Messrs. Halstead and Hennard before it was taken over by Joseph Kreitz.
By 1910, a new era in commercial laundry had arrived in Barrie. As in many other communities in Canada, the laundry business had largely become the domain of Chinese Canadians.
Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.