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The Rise and Fall of "Power Laundries"

Varsity Laundry and the Federal Building block

The first washing machine was reputedly built in 1851 in an Oakland, California, gold-mining camp. A Mr. Davis used barrels with a plunger affair to keep the clothes stirred up, and an old donkey engine to furnish the power. He used his machines to set up a business washing miners' clothes commercially. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, similar "power laundries" sprang up all over the country.

The First National Building

It recalls the ebullient optimism of the 1920's

On February 21, 1929, the First National Building, the tallest and most lavish office building yet built in Ann Arbor, was opened amid great fanfare. More than 5,000 people attended the grand opening of the ten-story building at Main and Washington.

Ehnis and Son

From harness making to work clothes

Soon after Herman Ehnis opened his harness shop at 116 West Liberty, he realized he had gone into a dying field. But by adroitly shifting his focus from horses to the workmen who cared for them, Ehnis created a business that is still here eighty-two years later.

From Wooden Ladders to Computer Software

The Associated Spring building recaps the city's economic history

The Associated Spring building, at 401 E. Stadium near Crisler Arena, has witnessed firsthand Ann Arbor's amazing economic evolution during the twentieth century. From 1910 to 1919, it housed a company that made wooden ladders. From 1919 to 1988, its workers produced metal springs for Detroit's carmakers. Subsequently renovated for office use, it's now the home of C-Text software, a national player in the fast-growing computer typesetting business.

Main Street's Last Shoe Store

When Walter Mast went into business for himself in 1942, there were nine shoe stores on the street. Today, Mast's is the sole survivor.

When Walter Mast opened his shoe store on Main Street in 1942, friends warned him he would never make a go of it. Not only were there eight other shoe stores nearby, but he sold only one line. Now, forty-nine years later, Mast's is the last shoe store on Main Street.


Keeping up with the changing Ann Arbor funeral

Muehlig Funeral Chapel's 1928 move to the corner of Fourth Avenue and William was a milestone in the changing funeral practices of Ann Arbor. When Florian C. Muehlig began making caskets as a sideline to his furniture business in 1852, "families took care of their own, even burying them on their own property," says Dave Hamel, who today is co-owner of the firm with Neil Bidwell and Florian's great-grandson, Bob Muehlig. "Now it has evolved to have others handle it."

Recycling Rugs on Huron Street

The Ann Arbor Fluff Rug Company turned old carpets into new

For more than forty years, from 1895 to 1936, thrifty home owners from all over the United States sent their old carpets to Ann Arbor for recycling. At the Ann Arbor Fluff Rug Company, 409-421 West Huron (now replaced by the Performance Network building), worn, shabby carpets were cut and rewoven using machinery developed by owner Henry Schlemmer. The end product was a new rug of a more mottled color than the original but sturdy and strong and usable on both sides.

417 Detroit St.

The Ecology Center was once an apple-packing plant

Ann Arbor City Council Minutes, February 02, 1920

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The Rise and Transformation of American Broach

Its huge Huron Street factory is now a haven for low-budget arts groups.