Apologies to all my dear and valued customers but if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s having my business called a “Laundromat” or worse still, a “laundrymat”. I operate a laundrette. You’ll notice that the word “Laundromat” is capitalised. Read on to learn why.
The word “Laundromat” was coined by an American man named Harry Greenwald, an inventor, who set up a coin-operated washing machine in his apartment block. It was so popular he set up several machines and then saw the opportunities for stores to be established. His son Ken wrote in an online forum in 2004 that his father came up with the name “Laundromat” as a combination of “laundry” and the word “automat”, having been a regular restaurant patron at the Horn and Hardart Automat in Times Square, Manhattan. The Automat restaurant featured glass-doored boxes which would unlock when a coin was dropped in the slot. In the end Harry Greenwald had little interest in opening stores, but wanted to make the metres attached to machines.
He established a relationship with washing machine manufacturer Westinghouse Electric to make the metres exclusively for them. In the meantime, Westinghouse trademarked the word Laundromat in 1947 (which is why it is capitalised. Try typing it on your computer using lower case and you’ll see that it’s underlined as wrong or automatically changed to upper case by your spell checker). It’s kind of like using the term Band-Aid (a trademarked name) for all adhesive bandages.
The word “launderette” is also believed to have been trademarked in the UK around the same time, but as I understand it, is no longer trademarked. So “Laundromat” is often inappropriately used generically to describe a place where customers use coins or tokens to activate clothes washing and drying machines, but launderette (or launderette) is the correct generic term.