Doing laundry in the 1700s and 1800s was an arduous chore. Not only could it take all day, it involved using a lot of strength. In the beginning it involved washing the clothes in the local river and beating them against a rock to get the dirt out. Then you had to wring them to get all the water out.
When laundry machines came about – not the modern day washer, the machines were a tub with a fancy crank that rotated the clothes and water in the tub – not many people could afford them so neighbors united. The communal “wash copper” was used to heat water and then neighbors would borrow or rent the copper tub to do their laundry. This was the first step toward the modern day laundromat.
When washing machines emerged only the wealthiest people could afford them and during the Great Depression many people didn’t have running water or a stove to manually do their laundry. In 1934, C.A. Tannahill started the very first modern laundromat in Fort Worth, TX. The company had electric washing machines that they decided to rent out to the public to do their laundry. There were no dryers so people still had to hang dry their laundry. The term “washeteria” came from the combination of washing clothes and the idea of an affordable cafeteria. The concept took off and by the end of the decade there were washeterias, launderettes and coin laundries all across the nation.