Loop Back: Hennepin Steam Laundry
When the Hennepin Steam Laundry was built in 1884 at 120 First Avenue North, there were no automobiles and few light bulbs, and most everyone was scrubbing their own laundry by hand.
So this new 3-story steam-powered laundry–where they would send a wagon to your home to pick up and deliver your clothes–was quite a marvel for the community. Hundreds would turn out on Wednesdays and Thursdays to tour the facility and see the fascinating machinery at work.
As one reporter put it in 1886, “It will be quite interesting to watch the soiled linen go in at one end in a very sorry plight, and come out the other end done up in the whitest possible way, with all the frills and puckers necessary.”
Hennepin Steam Laundry was one of the oldest professional laundries in Minneapolis, having outgrown its earlier space downtown at 318 Hennepin. Owner Wesley M. Lawrence developed and produced his own soap to use in the ten cylindrical steam washers that would “wring the goods at 200 revolutions a minute without any injury whatever to the clothes,” according to a newspaper account.
According to other reporters who attended the tours, there were boilers in the basement that powered the machines and heated the building, while the washing took place on the first floor. “Then up to the second floor,” wrote one newspaperman, “where a large number of healthy, happy looking young and middle-aged women, all busy at their usual work, were ready to show the way in which the ironing of shirts, collars and fancy articles is done.”
Lawrence clearly charmed and inspired the local press, with references to his “pleasant mood” as he greeted visitors. One reporter noted that because of the great care taken by this business, “a Minneapolis shirt will outwear any other in the country.”
We have several more pages of neighborhood history in our Historic North Loop section.
By Mike Binkley, North Loop Neighborhood Association