Drying Laundry and Fish, Chinatown Window
In Gold Rush San Francisco laundry was a luxury. Not only was there a shortage of fresh water but with everyone off panning for gold, not many people remained in the city willing to wash others' dirty clothes. The few launderers at Washerwomen's Lagoon, near the base of Russian Hill, charged $8 (two-thirds a months wages) just to launder a dozen shirts.

So the options were either to wear dirty clothes until they became too offensive to stand or send out the laundry. In the early 1850s it was common practice to send off dirty laundry in outgoing clippers to Hawaii or even Hong Kong and then wait three months for their return.

Obviously trans-Pacific laundry was not a practical solution for most and into this void stepped the Chinese immigrants. Laundry start up costs were low and it was one of the few jobs the Chinese could secure without interference from the city's white population.

Soon the tradition of Chinese laundries was established and grew to the point that the Chinese Laundry Association had a rule that each laundry had to be at least ten doors from each other to reduce competition. By the 1920s it was estimated that 30% of the Chinese in the country were employed in the laundry business.
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