Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: The History of Dry Cleaning in Brookville

Matson Insurance has partnered with Jefferson County History Center to offer readers a look into Jefferson County’s past. Today, the history of dry cleaning in Brookville is highlighted.

[Once upon a time, Snyder’s Dry Cleaning was housed in the small white building to the left, now painted red and the home of the Brookville Area Chamber of Commerce. (JCHS Collection)]

(Article submitted by Carole Briggs, Jefferson County Historical Society.)


Spring is when folks trot to the dry cleaners with arms full of those heavy coats and jackets worn during the cold months of winter. It’s the time to get them cleaned and then packed away for another season.

Clothing care was once very minimal. Native Americans wore animal skins, and our pioneers wore clothing made of natural fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, or linsey-woolsey as well as animal skins. When winter arrived, women simply added more petticoats under their skirts and men put on a heavier shirt and then reversed the process in the spring. When the sun was out, these fabrics could be washed and dried in the open air.

After Singer patented his sewing machine in 1851, factories began to produce clothing. Factories made uniforms for Civil War soldiers. And factories produced the union suit. Putting on a union suit when cold weather arrived and removing it in the spring made sense. There was little need to launder it in between! Women’s gowns were “aired,” but they, too, were not cleaned like we clean clothing today. Instead, people used fragrant herbs or simply got used to each other’s odors!

As the sewing machine made clothing fancier, they needed to be cleaned in a new way. In France, Jean Baptiste Jolly noticed that kerosene cleaned a tablecloth and soon people were using kerosene as a cleaning agent. Other solvents followed. Today, cleaning companies like Town&Country rely on solvents like Ecosolve.

Locally-owned dry cleaners predominated during the first part of the 20th century, then like banks, grocery stores, and other industries, they were bought up by larger companies.Town&Country Cleaners, for instance, cleans and presses in Clarion, but relies on three stores and eight locations for pick-up. The company expanded to 17 locations in western Pennsylvania in July of 2009 and looked to double their current cleaning of 70,000 garments annually.

Improvements in dry-cleaning techniques and textile production continue worldwide. Who knows what the 21st century will bring? And what households might do in the future to keep everyone looking their best?

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Matson Insurance in Brookville.

Submitted by the Jefferson County History Center.

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