Dry cleaning history is interesting topic Posted on April 22, 2021 under Blog. | no comments.

Dry cleaning history may not sound too exciting, but it is actually quite interesting, especially how it was invented.

Dry cleaning is a process of cleaning clothes and fabrics with solutions and equipment that do not contain water. The origins date back to the 1800s.

Thomas Jennings developed the first dry cleaning method called “Dry Scouring.” Jennings started as an apprentice to a prominent New York tailor at age 19. He later opened his own clothing shop and experimented with ways to clean clothing for his customers.

Jennings received a patent for Dry Scouring in 1821 at the age of 29.

An item in the New York Gazette from March 13 of that year announces Jennings’ success in patenting “Dry Scouring Clothes, and Woolen Fabrics in general, so that they keep their original shape, and have the polish and appearance of new.”

It is likely Jennings was the first African-American to hold a patent.

Dry Cleaning History & the X-Patents

No one knows the exact details of the patent. A massive fire in 1836 destroyed about 10,000 patents issued since the creation of the US Patent and Trademark Office in 1790. The destroyed patents are known as the “X-patents.”

Although about 2,500 replacement copies of the patents were recovered from the inventors, Jennings’ was not. The patents are indicated by an “X” after the patent number. 

Jennings used his earnings to fight for abolition and found and support charities. He founded Freedom’s Journal, the first black-owned newspaper in America, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

There is another theory, although not as widely believed, that dry cleaning began in France in 1825 with a “mistake.” Camphene, a fuel for oil lamps, accidentally spilled on clothing and cleaned it, according to Dry Cleaning, Technology and Theory, published in 1958. 

It is fascinating to learn how things are invented. Dry cleaning started with an ambitious entrepreneur in the 1800s. Since then, many people have improved upon the machines, methods and solvents. It will be interesting to see how dry cleaning changes in the future. 

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