National Clothesline
National Clothesline
Recalling the not-so-good ol’ days
I often look at the “new and improved” anything and simply can’t help but wonder, “Gee, was
everything from the past “old and rotten?” It seems like there is nothing from “the old days” that
is worth anything.
There are some things that I
see replaced with the new that I
can’t help but ask myself “What
was wrong with the old way?”
But in spite of all that, we do
seem to have a yearning for the
“good ol’ days.”
So which is it? Do we embrace change? Long for the new and improved? Or do we, indeed,
just occasionally want to look back?
Let’s do the latter today.
The business of washing and pressing shirts has come a long way during my lifetime in this
industry. I often think about the challenges and routines that I was exposed to when I worked in
the family business in the late ’70s and the ’80s. The annoyances are virtually gone! That is
amazing to me. And how wonderful!
It was always a challenge to make certain that you stretched a collar (and the cuffs too)
before you pressed it. Failure to do so could result in ugly, pressed-in wrinkles. If a collar shrunk
a bit or the fabric relaxed you would, in effect, seal that in by pressing the collar while it laid
there, 1⁄4 inch tighter than the wearer thought comfortable.
Better collars and cuffs
These days, most if not all collar and cuff presses have a passive or active function that
stretches the collar automatically for you! This is very cool.
This is done in a variety of ways. Some early incarnations simply used a vacuum. Who ever
heard of a hot head press with a vacuum? This was great.
Later, Sankosha pioneered (Is Sankosha the Japanese word for “innovation”?) first simple,
then later elaborate split bucks that clearly and in no uncertain terms stretched the collars and
cuffs a microsecond before it is pressed. This is very impressive.
Then Unipress rethought that and realized that the same thing can be accomplished with no
moving parts! How cool is that?
When I first pressed a shirt, it was on a Unipress BASF-A, along with its siblings; a MSA
sleever, a collar and cuff machine model STH and, of course the shirt folder.
In the ’50s and prior, shirts were folded, not hung. Shirt hangers were only introduced in the
early ’60s. So, not all that long ago, shirt folding wasn’t merely the expensive pain-in-the-butt
that it is today, it was something as routine as starch. My personal drycleaner doesn’t even offer
folded shirts!
And, back in the day, this
equipment was heavy and far from
energy efficient. If I remember
correctly, a Unipress BASF weighed
3,500 pounds and consumed four
boiler horsepower.
Better sleeves
A couple of years ago, I wrote a
column for this magazine that I
affectionately titled, “Funeral for a
Friend,” the passing of the sleeve
press. I was anticipating its demise
and I was right. I am willing to bet
that there are some of my readers
that don’t even know what a
sleever is.
But what a vast improvement the
blown sleeve concept has been to
our industry! The sleeve press was
the root cause of 70 to 80 percent
of touch-up. It stood alone as the
cause of defects that we never see
anymore. There were sharp,
pressed-in wrinkles at the shoulders
alongside the seam. This was
caused by the shirt riding up on the
Better safety
On what is now ancient
equipment, you could pull down on
the back of the shirt with one hand
and activate the press with the
other in an effort to prevent this.
The concept of two-handed control
for safety was not envisioned yet.
Eventually there were collar and
cuff presses that did have two-
handed controls that could easily be
by-passed by wedging a matchbook
under one of the switches. Your
pressers don’t realize it, but their
life and limbs are saved everyday
by the safety innovations of modern
As Americans generally started to
weigh more, shirt press
manufacturers didn’t limit the size
of the soft drinks that they could
buy. Instead they succumbed and
made body presses that could
handle up to a size 20 shirt, all the
while remembering that there were
still some smaller shirts out there.
This called for a shirt press
design that was much less rigid
than the old BASF with its stainless
steel wing expanders and
unbelievably difficult to replace
pads and covers. And, frankly, the
quality of the pressed shirt was
remarkable, as long as it was a size
151⁄2 or 16 1⁄2.  
The ingenuity built into today’s
modern body presses is awe
inspiring. And I’m really not trying
to be overly dramatic.
Think about it; the body press
also presses the sleeves, flawlessly,
does a reasonable job on most
sizes of shirts, conforms to fitted
shirts, all the while conserving
energy with a relatively compact
Try, try again
Shirt unit manufacturers really
tried to improve the sleeve press. I
think that perhaps after multiple
reincarnations and reinventions of
the machine, they secretly went
back to the drawing board and realized that the sleever could not be saved and they collectively
found that it didn’t need to be saved.
Someone came up with the idea of blending it with the body press. This was in the mid-’80s,
believe it or not, and it really was frowned upon as the poster-child for “low-rent.” Wow, we have
come a long way!
There were basically four reincarnations of the sleeve press that come to my mind and none of
them were very good.
The Unipress MSA, I called it the “button smasher” (and still do). If you dressed the shirt
correctly and the shirt wasn’t too big, too small or custom-cut, this press did a fine job. And if
the shirt did not have sleeve-gusset buttons, the machine did not pulverize them. Otherwise this
machine was perfect.
Ajax made a model CSB. It was supposed to dry a substantial portion of the sleeve with hot air
flow, but it never worked.
Furthermore, the inflation of the air bags made the sleeve fabric ride up and create pressed-in
wrinkles. And the sleeve gusset area was never pressed correctly. The shape of the bucks
virtually assured this.
Unipress jettisoned its MSA and did a good job with their last sleever model. The entire buck
was an air bag so it didn’t smash buttons, but it was still far too easy to make a mess of the
gusset area as well as the shoulder area.
There are still some of these around, and the last I heard, you could still buy rebuilt ones from
the factory, but if this is still true, there hardly seems a reason to go this route.  
Forenta went all out several years ago with a sleever that was very well thought out. It had all
sorts of clamp hold-downs in a valiant effort to press all of the nooks and crannies that a shirt
sleeve can muster.
I feel certain that the machine manufacturers threw in the towel after this effort. And it turned
out to be a blessing in disguise.
No manufacturer will ever spend precious engineering and R&D dollars towards the
development of a machine that has no point. The industry has about as much use for a sleeve
press as a cat has for pajamas.
There is (or at least was) a machine, built by an obscure, little known manufacturer that
pressed the entire shirt — body, sleeves, cuffs and collars — in one operation. Like the early
blown sleeve units from 35 years ago, perhaps this concept has a future, but it’ll be a while. So
maybe the best is yet to come.
When my father bought his first shirt unit — it was that Unipress BASF-A — he installed it
within the view of his coin-laundry customers. Many of them watched in awe at the automation
and the complexity of the equipment that, back then, was already 30 years old.
How amazed would they be now?
Personally, I certainly never dreamed that shirt units would be what they are today.
The world, as well as this industry, has improved greatly over the past half-century. We do,
indeed, long for the good old days, but probably because of our fondness for simpler times. As
time passes, we forget many of the details.
It isn’t too early to say that the Clean Show is next year. I can hardly wait for the innovation
that it holds, now, more than ever.
Happy New Year everyone.
“If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got”

Don Desrosiers has been in the drycleaning and shirt laundering
Tailwind’s Manager of the Year By Don Desrosiers It is with gre