In Pompeii around 79 somebody urinated, somebody else took the ammonia out, and dry cleaning was born. Why? Because they were wearing a lot of wool (seems like a heavy fabric to me when you are beneath a volcano) and wool shrinks in water. Imagine you take a week or whatever to weave your Pompeiian partner a wool… sweater?… and the next day it rains and they hand it down to your kid. That’s aggravating.
How did they think to use the ammonia from urine? Aliens. You tell me. If you were standing there with a dirty sweater that you couldn’t wash in the Pompeiian river, would you turn to your buddy and say, “Do me a favor and relieve yourself in this bucket and distill the ammonia out of it?” Neither would I, or anybody else we know. Aliens.
Time passes, and greasy stains happen. The Drycleaning And Laundry Institute (let’s just call them DLI as we are going to refer to them a few times here) reports that the next reference to dry cleaning (and they would know) is when a maid spills kerosene on a greasy stain. Kerosene evaporates, and with it goes a large degree of the stain. Viola. Dry cleaning.
According to the Handbook Of Solvents…
… the good people at Tienturierr Jolly – Belin in Paris started the first ever dry cleaning business. It is depicted thus:
Picked up a few things on Saturday from the dry cleaners when it dawned on me that I didn’t even know what the dry cleaners was. I know the guy is very nice. When I got sick I stopped wearing suits. When I got better I walked in one day and he asked me to please go home and get all my suits and bring them in. I did, though at the time I spent the whole next week worrying about the tab. A week later I came back in, and he handed me the suits and I went to pay and he said something to the effect of, “No charge no charge. Good to see Mr. Burton walking around again, and good to see suit walking.”
Turns out dry cleaning is anything but. It is the use of liquids to clean, just not water. As I understand it other liquids are wet too, by definition, but do YOU wanna take that up with the DLI? Cause I don’t. I avoid any agency that has a three letter initialism.
If you took your French cuffs to Tienturierr Jolly – Belin, they would have been soaked in turpentine and then air dried. Today, if one of my shirts were soaked in turpentine, I would take it to the dry cleaners.
This is Thomas L. Jennings.
Mr. Jennings was not only well turned out and a tremendous man by all accounts. He was also the first African American patent holder in the US. For… his dry cleaning technology in 1821. He continued working in both dry cleaning AND civil rights. Again, from the African American Registry:
In 1821 he was the first Blacks to be granted a patent for his method of dry cleaning. With the proceeds of his invention, he bought his wife and children’s freedom, then continued his civil rights work. He was active on issues related to emigration to other countries; opposing colonization in Africa, as proposed by the American Colonization Society; and supporting the expansion of suffrage for Black men. Jennings became active in working for civil rights for the Black community. In 1831, he was selected as assistant secretary to the First Annual National Negro Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
After his daughter,Elizabeth was forcibly removed from a “whites only” streetcar in New York City, he organized a movement against racial segregation in public transit in the city; the services were provided by private companies. Elizabeth Jennings won her case in 1854. Along with James McCune Smith and Rev. James W.C. Pennington, he created the Legal Rights Association in 1855, a pioneering civil rights organization. in New York City, New York. He operated and owned a tailoring business. Thomas Jennings died on February 12, 1856.
Dry cleaning evolved with a number of marriages to petroleum, ending with perchloroethylene. Until people started studying THAT. Turns out perchloroethylene is pretty bad for you, and it also turns out that most of the perchloroethylene in the atmosphere comes from the dry cleaning industry.
Now, of course, there are more environmentally friendly alternatives, which I am guilty of not paying that much attention to, but will now. I am glad I checked.