The history and evolution of dry cleaning

“It’s a captivating story. Back in 1825, a careless maid in the employ of one Jean-Baptiste Jolly knocked over a turpentine lamp, spilling the liquid onto a stained tablecloth. Apparently, Jolly was a frugal man: turpentine, a liquid obtained by the distillation of pine tree resin, was a cheap alternative to whale oil, the common fuel for lamps. While Jolly may have been thrifty, he was astute. He noted that the stains vanished where the kerosene had soaked through the fabric. And at that moment the dry cleaning industry was born! At least so goes the possibly apocryphal tale. What is known is that Jolly was the first to provide “dry cleaning” at his “Teinturerie Jolly” in Paris, bathing fabrics that would normally not stand up well to water in turpentine. “Dry cleaning” is only “dry” in the sense that no water is used.

Although Jolly is commonly credited with the discovery, a patent for “dry scouring” was actually filed in the United States by Thomas Jennings four years before the “careless maid” episode. Unfortunately, the patent was destroyed in a fire, so what solvent Jennings used isn’t known, but it was likely either turpentine or a petroleum distillate. Jennings, the first African American to ever be granted a patent, became rich from his discovery and used his earnings to help fund the abolitionist movement.”

Read even more details about the evolution of dry cleaning here.

What’s also fascinating about this story is how it led to the development of Saran wrap. There was certainly a lot of trial and error involved for the chemists to find the right solution (no pun intended). Thankfully, the early years of dry cleaning where flammable liquids were used are long gone! Can you imagine the liability if customer’s clothes started to erupt in flames?

At My Pilgrim Cleaning, our dry cleaning gets out the toughest of stains. Whether you have a precious article of clothing such as a wedding gown or something a simple as a table linen, we’re up to the task. Contact us at (612) 861-1697 or visit our dry cleaning page for more information.


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