American Laundry - Family Owned For 50 Years and 75 Years

(December 31, 1933, Sunday, Grand Rapids Herald)

A New Front for the New Year

In the best sense of the word "front", meaning a new attitude of courage and confidence, isnít that what we all need, and what the old world needs. "a new front for the New Year"?

With this striking new front stretching 172 feet along Division avenue, the building of which has kept Grand Rapids workmen busy during 1933. Otte Brothers American Laundry make their contribution to "the city beautiful," and express their confidence in the destiny of Grand Rapids.

This handsome front designed by Architect Henry H. Turner, with its lofty terra cotta fluted pilasters, its rich black granite base, its gleaming aluminum spandrels and the great American eagles, wings spread, at the pinnacle of the columns, is as modern in spirit as the multiplicity of household services rendered each week by this laundry to thousands of Grand Rapids families.

Faith in the Future of Grand Rapids

Faith in the Future of Division Avenue

50 Year Ambition Realized by the Founder

"A year after we founded Otte Brothers American Laundry in 1881, talk was heard about the necessity of widening Division avenue, for fifty-one years this project has been discussed, off and on, and I am thankful that I have been permitted to live to see it brought to pass. Division avenue is a great street. With its widening, its usefulness as a main artery of traffic will be increased."

"I wish to take the opportunity at the beginning of the New Year to thank our many thousands of customers and friends for their loyalty through the years. Your appreciation of quality service has encouraged us year after year to be alert to adopt every new process, method, and equipment that would enable us to serve you better."

"Out of more than a half century of experience as a laundry owner, I am thoroughly convinced that fair dealing and good-will toward one another in whatever line of business we may be engaged are the true fundamentals of success. We must under all conditions consider the welfare of others. It has truly been a great privilege to serve the people of Grand Rapids so long, and to have made so many friends. My sons, John and Edward, join with me in heartily wishing you a most happy and prosperous New Year."

Adrian Otte, President
Otte Brothers



Left: The horse-drawn vehicle was used to collect and deliver packages.  When the automobile established itself the laundry converted to motor trucks and set up its own garage across from the Division Avenue plant
Right: Newest machinery is this equipment for pressing sport shirts.  John P. Otte, Jr., watches Miss Dora Morgan press a shirt collar in the second step of the three-part operation.


American Laundry & Cleaners - 75 Years
(April, 1956)

The oldest steam laundry in the midwest observed its seventy-fifth anniversary on this first week of April, 1856.

American Laundry & Cleaners was founded April 4, 1881, as American Laundry, a small hand laundry at what was 24 S. Division St. under the old street numbering system. The proprietor was Adrian Otte, 32, who had come from the Netherlands to America at the age of 10.

In 1889, when he was joined by his brother, John, the firm was already growing. By 1902 they were in a large plant at 424 Division (now 634 Division) and were operating with large machines .

The customers of 1902 would be amazed to see American Laundry operating today with automation processes that control each phase of the washing process by a piece of punched tape resembling an old piano roll. Although the company handles a far vaster amount of laundry and cleaning, machines make it possible to operate with only 150 employees, compared to the 125 on the pay roll in 1902.

The clothes, as well at the laundry, have undergone many changes. "Stiff bosom shirts - thousands of them!" exclaimed John Otte, Sr., Adrian's son, who is now secretary-treasurer. "Can you imagine? Today we don't get any!"

The 1880s were the days of stiff collars and cuffs. Grand Rapids had no laundry that could clean them, and neither did mot other American cities. The local laundries detached the cuffs and collars and sent them to Troy, N. Y., where they were cleaned and returned. Troy is still a center of laundry machinery manufacture.

Then Grand Rapids laundries began to install the needed equipment. After that, we had them mailed to us from all over.

The big Grand Rapids plant acquired a long-distance clientele that still remains to some degree which is attributed to salesmen who traveled far from Grand Rapids, but always sent their shirts and collars to American for cleaning and forwarding to their next hotel stop.

Collars were a rugged proposition in the old days. "This machine is the one that makes the edge of your collar comfortable.. The edge of the collar is slightly dampened on a steam heated muslin pad and then six rapidly revolving steel wheels, heated by gas, burnish the edge of the collar and smooth it in the twinkling of an eye."

"Customers in Wisconsin still mail to us," says John "Jack" Otte, Jr. "We've had two tablecloths valued at $3,000 each sent frmo Morris, ILL. Harlow Curtice, president of General Motors, mailed us work as recently as five years ago. We've had rugs sent here from Houston, Texas. Jack Dempsey sent his carpeting and furniture here."

There is still a remnant of the stiff collar trade - clergymen's collars. They come by mail from all over the state.

In the early days, laundry machinery was in its infancy and Adrian Otte designed and patented some for his plant. His 1902 pamphlet advertised "The most complete laundry in the west which used delicate machinery instead of elbow grease.

The brothers' new plant at Division ave. and Haifley st. was built in 1900 and expanded several times, although it lost 17 feet from the front when Division ave. was widened. In 1900 the use of Addressograph machines was initiated. Adding machines were introduced before the banks had them, so bankers came to watch the novelties.

In 1902 an air-conditioning system was started. A 20-foot fan blew air, washed in watered coke beds, onto each work station. In winter, brisk outdoors air sufficed.

The laundry also pioneered in several fields of employe benefits - vacations with pay, profit sharing, and group plans for life, health and accident insurance. In 75 years the company has never laid off a worker.

Eighteen employes have been with the company 25 years or more and the oldest in point of service, Leslie Graham, a truck driver, is marking his fifieth year with the concern.

One innovation of the 1920s has been discarded - the laundry's own power plant. Hailed in 1929 as "one of the finest, most modern and best equipped of any laundry in America," the plan generated electricity until March, 1952. The company concluded it is cheaper to buy power from the public utility.

The company is believed to be the oldest in it s field under the same continuous family ownership. It also is one of the charter members of the American Institute of Laundering, a research institution in Joliet, ILL., where Jack Otte studied a year.

Adrian Otte died at 92 in March, 1951, and Jack Otte was made the president the next winter. His father became secretary-treasurer, and his uncle, Edward F., is vice-president.

Transcriber: ES
Created: 7 April 2007 and 21 November 2010