This is obvious, but there’s no predicting how one’s interests might change. For instance, I’ve become interested in laundry in connection to the reading I’ve been doing about women injured at work. As usual, I’m behind in this (and I need to come up with an argument fast, but I can’t really do that until I look at more sources, and I can’t do _that_ until I’m back home Monday), just as I’ve fallen off of my nanowrimo plan.

From Arwen Mohun’s Steam Laundries:

“[T]he development of commercial laundry machinery followed the logic of factory production, dividing tasks into incremental components and incorporating elements of craft knowledge into the machine design. Other devices aimed to take advantage of economies of scale. For instance, hand ironing of flatwork was gradually replaced by huge cylinder irons (mangles) that could iron hundreds of sheets an hour.” (17.)

“In 1909, the first census of power laundries in the United States counted 5,186 establishments. Census takers ignored hand laundries, limiting their enumeration to facilities that used power-driven machinery. They also restricted their count to commercial establishments, leaving out the scores of laundries in hospitals, penitentiaries, and charitable establishments.” (49.) Industrial “laundries were a substantial source of employment, especially for women. The 1909 U.S. census counted 124,214 persons employed at wage labor in laundries (excluding salaried employees such as clerks and managers), 71.2 percent (or about 90,000) of whom were women.” (49-50.)

“American laundries clustered in the Northern states. As reported in 1910, New York ranked first with 508 laundries, 126 in New York City alone. Illinois was second with 448 and California, although twelfth in population, came in third with 321.” (50.)

“Observes were quick to note the rapidly growing number of mechanized laundries” and “British trade journals portrayed American laundries as larger and more mechanized.” (52.) Mohun notes that the laundry industry was transatlantic in character, with trade journals and catalogs passing back and forth from the UK and US, though typically the flow of machinery was more US to UK than the reverse.

“Like many small businesses, laundries occupied a middle position on the continuum from production and consumption. While customers saw them only as producers of clean laundry, laundry owners were also customers for a host of subsidiary industries – from new machinery to soap flakes and shirt boxes.” (66.) The specifics of the items consumed, this is true of all industry and all production – production consumes the machines and tools used slowly via wear and tear, consumes raw materials, consumes the labor power of workers and in the cases of accidents consumes their body parts.

“In 1900, the census counted 328,935 laundresses. If only 82,000 worked in power laundries, an enormous remainder worked either in hand laundries or in homes. (…) A 1911 study by the Immigration Commission found that taking in laundry was the most common form of homework in the cities polled. These laundresses were classified as mostly “Negro,” “Bohemian,” or “Moravian.” “(68.)

“By the turn of the century, observes were describing many [laundries] as factories. These laundries were characterized by mechanization, division of labor, and increase in scale, and they were distanced both materially and symbolically from the kitchens and workshops where washing had long been carried out. (…) Between 1880 and 1900, large washing machines and mangles heated by steam became widespread, mechanizing the least skilled and most physically demanding parts of the process.” Social reformer Elizabeth Butler wrote that the division of labor in laundries “is carried out as far as in a factory. There is specialization for speed.” (70.)

See also this, this, this, and the stuff in McClure’s.

Not to mention.