In the early 20th century, sanitation was a national obsession. “Laundry as sweet and clean as white-topped waves,” as “pure as roses” and “a dream of joy” promised 1920s advertisements for the Star Laundry of Olympia. This longtime business operated in downtown Olympia for about 80 years.
Laundry was an exhausting task in the early 20th century. Most clothing and linens were washed and ironed by hand. Contemporary washers and dryers were expensive and still required much physical labor. For families and single people, sending out bundles of dirty clothes to be washed at a professional laundry proved a way to save time and work. Olympia had a number of laundries, including some run by Chinese Americans.
On Monday, October 31, 1902, the Star Hand Laundry opened under the ownership of J. A. Hunt and a Mr. Johnson at the corner of what is now Capitol Way and State Avenue (307 N. Capitol Way). Their initial advertisement in the October 26 issue of the Morning Olympian promised that any mending would be done free. The laundry had a slow start, taking in work from Olympia and the surrounding area. It survived two minor fires in 1902 and 1903, both in brick clothes drying furnaces. In January 1903, business had increased enough to warrant renting an adjoining room for expansion.
E. Haycox took over the laundry in 1905. In June 1906, he added electrical appliances to speed washing, but workers still washed more delicate clothes by hand. He sold the business to T. George Agnew, a former sawmill engineer and his son Harold Agnew. Other family members helped run the business including Harold’s wife Anna.
In April 1909, the Agnews paid $2,500 for a new site on the corner of what is now Capitol Way and Olympia Avenue (203 N. Capitol Way). They remodeled the two wooden buildings on the site to accommodate the laundry machinery, moving operations in May 1909. The laundry owners used an artesian well on the site to provide water for washing. In 1910, they built an addition to their building, increasing floor space by two-thirds and put in a new boiler and installed electricity to run irons and some lighting. Gas provided the rest of the lighting and heated water. Steam was used for the drying room and mangle. In October 1911, they replaced their floors with more fireproof cement.
In 1912, the business name changed from Star Hand Laundry to simply the Star Laundry. In 1914, the Agnews enlarged the washroom, replacing two washing machines with bigger ones. A year later, they expanded the business another 100 square feet, reinstalling the two old washing machines.
The Star Laundry used a horse and wagon to pick up and deliver bundles of laundry at customers’ homes. In 1911, the laundry purchased a Flanders delivery car that could carry 1,000 pounds of laundry. Three years and 50,000 miles later, they added a Studebaker delivery truck to their fleet that could carry 1,500 pounds. These wagons and trucks survived several run-ins with other cars that left drivers and horses with only minor injuries. In 1908, for example, George Agnew’s wagon was struck by the street car, sending laundry flying all over the road.
In 1923, the Agnews had a new laundry building constructed at 301 N. Capitol Way. This structure is now home to Lassen Electric.
In the 1920s, the company adopted “Suds and Duds” as cartoon mascots. Suds (a man with a ball of soapy bubbles for a head and dressed in overalls) and Duds (a smiling man in a suit and hat) appeared in a series of advertisements. They assured readers of good service, promoting how sanitary, clean and efficient the business was and how much Duds’s wife approved of their work.
The 1930s proved a difficult time for Star Laundry. Laundry work could be seen as an avoidable expense and the business struggled to maintain customers. The Star added dry cleaning to their services. In December 1935, they participated with other businesses in a contest through the local newspapers. Contestants answered questions in order to be entered in a drawing for one of twenty free turkeys.
Star Laundry workers were primarily women. In 1929, there were 5 men and 16 women working at the business besides four drivers. Male members formed a baseball team in the 1920s to play other company teams in the region.
By 1929, George Agnew retired, leaving his wife and Harold as owners. Walter Agnew, Harold’s brother, acted as office manager, while Harold served as foreman. In February 1957, the Agnews sold the business to Gary Hersey. Serving as secretary, he ran the laundry with relative Donald E. Jack and Gordon Hersey, who managed operations.
In the late 1950s, the establishment changed its name to the Star Cleaners and Laundry. In 1972, they were honored as one of Thurston County’s Partners in Progress, as one of the county’s longest running businesses.
The business became the Star Laundry and Linen Supply in the 1970s and the Star Linen Service in the early 1980s, shortly before closing. While the business is no longer in operation, the Star leaves a legacy of fascinating advertisements and decades of keeping Olympia a cleaner place.