Laundry Building

The first University Laundry on campus, built in 1891 and later used as a contagious ward for the Hospital, was finally torn down in 1914. In 1897 what is now the Wood Technology Laboratory was then a part of the Hospital and housed the Laundry. In October, 1900, one may say almost that a new era began for the Laundry when it was voted that it be placed under the charge of the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds and that all University work be done at the uniform market rate (R.P., 1896-1901, p. 602). In 1908 the sum of $400 was set aside for the purchase of a body ironer. A year later, the Buildings and Grounds Committee requested $850 to replace worn-out machinery. It appeared that this committee was taking its new responsibility seriously, inasmuch as the first request was followed by another for still more machinery to cost between $900 and $1,000 (R.P., 1906-10, pp. 219, 707).

In the meantime, more women were employed in the Laundry, and as early as 1903 they were given a substantial raise in wages. All the workers with the exception of the foreman received an increase of twenty-five cents a day for a ten-hour day (R.P., 1901-6, p. 187).

About this time the University also purchased a new mangle and washer for a total of $1,368 (and the old mangle). The need of supplying the Laundry with soft water at once became apparent and was referred to the omnipotent Buildings and Grounds Committee. In June, 1904, the need of having a horse and covered wagon to help make deliveries became apparent and a request to this effect was granted on condition that the price be kept under $250 (R.P., 1901-06, p. 381).

By this time the Board was probably growing a little wary of the Laundry; expenses and upkeep were very high and the possibility of even returns a bit uncertain. In 1912 a decision to the effect that the University Hospital pay for transportation and laundry of state patients had its effects on the business of the Laundry (R.P., 1910-14, p. 467). The following year, on the very last day, there was a fire in the Laundry. An adjustment, however, was reached with the insurance company for some $2,896, and the old Laundry marched on into another year. Fires were seemingly not uncommon in this part of the University for again "on March 22, 1916, at about 5:30 p.m. fire again broke out in the laundry." An attempt to discover the cause brought no results. The damage done to the building cost the University $2,255. A settlement was effected through Mr. Robert Sutton, representing the insurance company, and Shirley W. Smith, Secretary, in the amount of $1,905.

In March, 1917, the Buildings and Grounds Committee was given authority to go ahead with the construction of a Laundry but not to contract without further action of the Board for more than the $20,000 which had been set aside in July. By June there was still talk about the Laundry, so evidently not much had been done about it since the preceding July. Another resolve was made in June, 1917, "that the Auditor-General … set aside out of the Accumulation of Savings Fund, the sum of $15,000 into the fund for the construction of a new Laundry building." (R.P., 1914-17, p. 805).

At last, in November, 1917, Superintendent Flook informed the Regents that the new Laundry had been completed and was ready for their inspection. The report also urged the necessary provision of a water-softening plant. Evidently nothing had been done about this matter although the subject had been discussed fourteen years earlier. The immediate desirability of having an automobile collection and delivery service for the Laundry was also urged. Obviously, the Laundry had increased in importance since the days when a horse and wagon had been humbly requested for deliveries.

The Laundry site cost the University $2,613. Inventory records indicate that on June 30, 1917, the cost of the building was $8,759, but on June 30, 1918, the completed cost was recorded as $34,425. The cost of the equipment for the Laundry amounted to about $7,320.

In 1926 the Board decided to authorize the enlargement of the Laundry at an expense not to exceed $15,000, to be met by University funds. An addition of 6,114 square feet was constructed at a cost of $16,221. In September of that year the Secretary filed a communication stating the circumstances under which he had authorized the addition to the Laundry Building, which was to be two stories in height instead of only one as had been planned. This action was informally approved (R.P., 1926-29, p. 43). It was not until 1930 that the Board directed that towel and laundry service be provided for students in Waterman Gymnasium in accordance with the recommendation of the Board in Control of Athletics, the expense to come from funds already provided in the budget of Waterman Gymnasium. Each student was required to make a deposit of fifty cents which was refunded when he returned the last towel given him.

In 1934 the committee authorized the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds to restore the 1933 wage scale so that each employee would receive an increase of two cents an hour; those who had been employed for five years received an additional one cent an hour. Since approximately 87 per cent of the work was charged to the Hospital, the expense ran to $4,000 a year. This action did not result in an increased budget but did increase the expense of running the Hospital.

Today the Laundry is one of the most modern plants in the country. It operates forty-eight hours a week and employs 170 people. The wash room is equipped with eleven automatic unloading washers, four semi-automatic washers, and six large extractors, six thermostatically controlled tumblers, and four large flat presses with airvent canopies to remove excess humidity. The finish department on the second floor contains fifty-two personal pressing machines, a four-drawer blanket machine, curtain stretchers, and a sewing and mending unit with six sewing machines.

In 1938 a second addition of 21,629 square feet was added on two floors along the south and west sides of the building at an expenditure of $67,684. Over a five-year period, beginning in 1949, practically all the equipment in the Laundry was replaced at a cost of $275,000 including installation by the Plant Department. In 1955 the finish department was air-conditioned for approximately $10,000.

At the present time the Laundry does about twelve tons of work a week which comes from the University Hospital, the Residence Halls, the Michigan Union, the Women's League, and any other department requiring laundry service excepting the Physical Education Department which operates its own laundry.

The first Laundry, a small frame building northwest of Palmer Ward, employed nine women who did all of the work by hand. When the Laundry was moved, in 1897, to the south end of Palmer Ward, it was the first laundry in this area to use steam, a labor- saving device which made possible a reduction of the staff to seven women. In 1900 it was again moved to the west end of the Boiler House, where it remained until it was transferred to its present location in 1917. At that time twenty people were employed in the Laundry. Oliver Aubro served as foreman from 1892 to 1921 and was followed by William V. Skopil, who held the position until 1936, when he was succeeded by Donald A. Callnin, the present Superintendent. In July, 1946, the Laundry, considered a major business department of the University, was given independent status and placed under the direction of W. K. Pierpont, then Assistant Controller. In February, 1951, the Regents established the office of Service Enterprises, and Francis C. Shiel was appointed Manager. The Laundry and several other departments were placed under the supervision of this office.

Source: The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey; Walter A. Donnelly, Wilfred B. Shaw, and Ruth W. Gjelsness, editors; Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 1958.