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In the early 1900s, reusable laundry boxes were used by college students to deal with their laundry. Mailing dirty clothes was not only convenient, but was also a cost saving measure, since mailing clothes back home could be cheaper less expensive than going tovisiting a professional cleanercleaning service. Because of this, everyone from college students to military personnel used them as a way to save time and resources.
While the laundry box designs varied, they all had one thing in common: they all had to be durable. The boxes had to be sturdy enough to survive being sealed, opened and closed time after time, but they also had to be conveniently sized. The National Post Museum has a box in its collection that fits that description. Made out of sturdy metal and with a frame on its list that allowed for postage information to be displayed easily, it’s also of a convenient size, measuring 6 ½ x 19 ¾ x 12 ¼ inches.
Another common design was with canvas encasings holding a cardboard box inside. In 1953, the Official a Postal Guide gave some words of advice on mailing clothes in these types of boxes:
“Laundry cases of fiber construction, and metal cases to a lesser extent, are frequently damaged due to lightweight construction and air space contained therein, and address cards are occasionally lost with the result that the case goes to the dead Parcel Post Branch. Light fiber cases should be boxed to insure arrival in good condition. A canvas-covered case with straps around both ends and lengthwise seems to carry satisfactorily, provided the address card is secured in the flanged label holder by metal clasps fastened on the inside of the case of by other suitable means. An address holder similar to that used on trunks and suitcases, with a second address inside the case is suggested.”
Reversible addressTwo sided address cards cards were used for convenience, but caused some confusion at postal offices. They would often warn that reutilized address cards had were to be free of old stamps and endorsements.
The emergence of the Parcel Post Service in 1913 introduced brought about standardized rates and an increase in the allowed weight for mailed packages. This lead to wider public acceptance, which in turn lead to even better rates and yet another increase in the allowed weight for mailed packages. Yale students were some of the first to jump into this trend, as an article from 1914 posted in the New York Times stated: “In the spring increasing business was done in the parcel post section when students found they could send home their laundry and get it returned at less than they would have to pay for their laundry here. They quickly found out that they could get their clothing, books, and room furnishings, except furniture, delivered by parcel post for less cost than by express.” In June, the Postal Office would be flooded with a mail volume as big as the rest of the year for the entire city when students were clearing their dormitories.
In 1924, the Wellesley, Massachusetts post office estimated that the average college student received ten times as much mail than the rest of the townspeople. In fact, mailed laundry was so widespread that it made up one third of the 252 arriving parcels during the first two weeks of the new term. These packages with fresh, crisp clothes provided the perfect way to comfort homesick students, by including treats inside of them. While regulations called for first-class postage to be included in all letters included with the packages, there was plenty of room for candies and other goodies to be sent with the laundry. Of course, the sender always had to make sure the treats didn’t ruin the freshly cleaned laundry be securing them well.
With automatic machines and new detergent technology, washing clothes became an easy task for a single person to do, and mother back at home no longer relied on the help to accomplish the chores. Students and travelers no longer relied on others, and the introduction of Laundromats in the 1930s made it even more convenient. To top it all off, bigger wardrobes also meant that less people could fit all their clothes into a mailing box. With all these factors, the practice of mailing laundry was soon all but forgotten by the 1970s.