What Is One Hour Martinizing?

Voyou Desoeuvre, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Voyou Desoeuvre, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0 / Voyou Desoeuvre, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

"One Hour Martinizing" might sound like a quaint or obscure term these days, but 70 years ago, the new process completely changed the laundry industry.

Prior to 1949, dry cleaners collected their customers' garments at an urban storefront and then sent them out to a plant—usually located on the outskirts of town—to be laundered. At that time, the chemicals used in dry cleaning were dangerous and highly combustible, and fires and explosions at said plants were not unusual. For safety's sake, these cleaning centers were kept out of highly populated areas.

Then a chemist from Buffalo, New York, named Henry Martin came along. While studying perchloroethylene (also called PERC, or tetrachloroethylene)—a substance first synthesized in 1821 by Michael Faraday—Martin discovered that the nonflammable, colorless chemical could also be used for cleaning. He quickly developed a method for cleaning clothes using the solvent and presented it to dry cleaners in Manhattan. He named the process Martinizing, and thanks to the unprecedented safety it provided, cleaners could now do their dirty work on-premise. Since clothes no longer needed to be sent away, the extremely quick turn-around time—one hour, if necessary!—became a marketable upgrade.

Martin trademarked the name and began a series of One Hour Martinizing franchises (later called Martinizing Dry Cleaning). By 1975, there were some 5000 franchises advertising that they could make your clothes "Fresh as a Flower in Just One Hour!" Some of the vintage signs are still around, and the company still exists. The process of Martinizing, though, is what has made dry cleaning fast, affordable, and most of all, safe.