Black History: Special Delivery!!
Thomas Jennings (1791-1856) was the father of modern day dry cleaning and the first African American in the United States to receive a patent. In 1821, Jennings received a patent for his dry cleaning process called “dry scouring”. Jennings was able to patent his invention because he was a free man. At the time, slaves were not allowed to apply for patents. Any inventions they developed were considered to be the property of their owners.
It should be noted that the professional cleaning of clothes dates back to the ancient Romans who employed skilled workers know as “fullers” to professionally clean clothing using a special clay called “fullers earth” along with lye and ammonia (derived from urine).
Jennings was clothier and tailor in New York. He was very much aware of the issues his customers faced in keeping their clothing clean. As a result he began to experiment with different cleaning solutions and eventually developed the dry scouring process. The dry scouring process became extremely popular and made Jennings a very wealthy man. He used his wealth to fund abolitionist causes and to buy the freedom of his family. The exact method he used has been lost to history, due to his patent records being burned in a fire in 1836. Jennings died in New York City in 1856.