The gold rush laundry business

In San Francisco during the early days water cost at least a bit a bucket, or two buckets for a quarter, quite a lot of money back then. Consequently only the washing of clothes that was considered indispensable was done and mostly by Mexican and Indian women at a fresh water pond in today’s Marina District south of Black Point that came to be called Washerwoman’s Lagoon. At the same time there were a few laundries and washerwomen who did very particular work in some of the other locations where water could be found near the city.

Washerwoman Lagoon near Black Point

In 1849 the ordinary price for washing soiled linen was eight dollars a dozen and large quantities were sent to foreign ports for cleaning. In the fall of that year a ship arrived from the Sandwich Islands, today’s Hawaii, with a hundred dozen pieces and anther ship came from Canton, China with two hundred and fifty dozen. It seemed that the practice of shipping dirty laundry overseas was becoming common. It’s reasonable to assume that any Chinese who came to California on a vessel carrying laundry might have realized the potential of that business in San Francisco. And when they did enter the laundry business, instead of rubbing the clothes to clean them, they had a peculiar way of slapping the water with the clothes that made a noise loud enough to be heard a good distance away.

 

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