New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation
Before the founding of the company
Rudolph J. Kloiber, founder of the New Britain Dry Cleaning Company, was born in what is now Gussing, Austria, in 1884. He immigrated to the United States in 1897 at the age of 13 and settled in Troy, New York, with his uncle and his uncle’s family. In 1906, he received his citizenship papers and moved to New York City to find work. In 1907, he met and married Margaret Rau, an emigrant from Rheinhessen, Krs Worms, Gundersheim, Germany. It was in New York City that he learned the dry cleaning and dye works trade. In 1911, Rudolph moved his wife and two children to New Britain, Connecticut. (Rudolph and Margaret eventually had four children: Lydia, born in 1908; Edgar, born in 1911; Dorothy, born in 1914, and Woodrow, born in 1917. Edgar and Woodrow joined the company when they were in their 20s.)
History of the company
In 1912, at the age of 28, Rudolph founded the New Britain Dry Cleaning Company (later known as the New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation and NB Cleaners) when he and Margaret opened a two-person dry cleaning store on Arch Street. This was New Britain’s first dry cleaning company and remained the sole dry cleaner in New Britain for many years.
Between 1912 and 1913, Rudolph met Albert Eichstaedt who owned property at 265 Cherry Street. Rudolph wanted to expand his dry cleaning business and Albert wanted to make use of his land so the two decided to become business partners. Rudolph then designed and oversaw the construction of the city’s first facility built solely for dry cleaning.
In 1914, the New Britain Dry Cleaning building on 265 Cherry Street was completed and the business was incorporated. Rudolph Kloiber was named president and treasurer, Margaret Kloiber, vice-president, and Albert Eichstaedt, secretary. The name of the business was changed to the New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation. Albert remained an officer and shareholder into the early 1930s when he sold all his shares to Rudolph.
Through the years, the business continued to thrive and prosper. In 1916, the company’s gross income was $7,000 ($145,000 in 2011 dollars, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI calculator).
In 1925, the company sold the building and property on 265 Cherry Street to the Crown Ice Cream Company and moved its dry cleaning operation to a large (16,000 square foot) modern plant at 411-415 West Main Street.
In 1933, Edgar, 22, joined the company.
By 1939, the company had expanded to 3 stores, (one at the main plant and two others in New Britain).
In 1941, Woodrow, 24, joined the company.
In 1946, the company had 5 stores (one at the main plant, three others in New Britain, and one in Newington).
In 1947, Rudolph passed away at the age of 63, a millionaire (in 2011 dollars). Rudolph's sons Edgar, 36, and Woodrow, 30, assumed leadership of the company as president-treasurer and secretary-assistant treasurer respectively. Margaret, cofounder and mother, remained vice-president of the corporation until her death in 1969 at the age of 93. After Margaret’s death, Woodrow became vice-president and assistant treasurer.
In 1951 the company expanded its operations to include laundering shirts. The new shirt laundry department started with two women doing 1,000 shirts a week. By 1954, the operation expanded fivefold to 5,000 shirts per week.
By 1953, total sales had soared to $300,000 ($2,538,449 in 2011 dollars).
In 1954, the company’s estimated share of the total cleaning volume in the New Britain area was around 70%. Cash and carry trade (as opposed to route men picking up and delivering clothing) accounted for approximately 75% of the company’s volume.
Also in 1954, a major decision faced management. The issue was whether to buy new, more efficient, dry cleaning equipment that would increase productivity and provide better service to their customers or wait, because (1) they knew their dry cleaning equipment was fairly new and had been kept in excellent condition, (2) the country was in the midst of a recession, (3) business, in general, was leveling off throughout the nation due to the recession, and (4) economists warned companies to proceed with caution. However, Edgar and Woodrow were inclined to be optimistic about the future of their company for, in spite of two world wars, a depression, and the current recession, the business had grown steadily, year in and year out, since 1912 when it was founded. They felt that much of the growth was attributed to the company’s policy of giving the public better and better service. The new system of dry cleaning appeared to offer a superior way of processing garments and improving service. After weighing the pros and cons, they decided to spend more than $40,000 ($335,943 in 2011 dollars) for the new dry cleaning equipment. The new equipment replaced a number of smaller dry cleaning units, freed up more production space, and released employees for other work in the plant. Two dry cleaners could now do the work of three and spotting work decreased by 65% to 70%. The net result was that production costs decreased, production capacity doubled, and the processing time was cut in half.
In 1955, there were 65 employees and 9 stores (seven in New Britain, including one at the main plant and one in the downtown Kloiber building; one in Newington; and one in West Hartford) and 5 route delivery drivers.
In 1962, to better serve the public, the company opened New Britain’s first combination coin-operated dry cleaning and laundry store—NB Clean-O-Mat—at 987 West Main Street.
In 1967, there were 60 employees and 11 stores (eight in New Britain, including the store at the main plant, and one each in Newington, Plainville, and Wethersfield).
The company grew to become one of the largest dry cleaning companies in central Connecticut because of its policy of offering the finest cleaning at the lowest possible prices in keeping with quality service. There were special departments for dry cleaning clothes, furs, rugs, blankets, and draperies; and for laundering shirts. Mothproofing and waterproofing clothes were also offered. There was also a specially constructed large cold storage vault for furs and other clothing that needed to be stored at cold temperatures for long periods of time.
In 1969, as a result of being displaced by the new multilane route 72 highway that bisected New Britain, the main plant moved for the last time to a new, ultramodern facility at 544 West Main Street.
In 1974, a major merger occurred when Edgar and Woodrow Kloiber were ready to retire. They sold the business to Williard and John Moneymaker, owners of Howards Cleaners Inc. The objectives of the purchase were to maintain a high volume of work, increase the efficiency of both companies, and stabilize prices. Both firms retained their individual names for marketing purposes but the New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation’s main plant serviced both companies because of its modern equipment, including a completely conveyorized and computerized dry cleaning system.
Working conditions in a dry cleaning and laundry plant during the summer months were brutally hot, temperatures often rising to 100 degrees or more. Salt tablets were the norm of the day. Modern air conditioning, even if available, was not appropriate in the plant. Rudolph, and later his sons, did all they could to make working conditions bearable on the shop floor by opening windows, using fans, and scheduling work breaks because they cared about their employees and recognized the value of happy, experienced, and loyal employees. They rewarded their employees with regular pay raises and bonuses. They encouraged suggestions to improve the operations of individual departments within the business. They held Christmas parties and outings for their employees on a regular basis and honored longtime employees at appropriate times.
Many articles appeared in the New Britain Herald over the years mentioning surprise bonuses, parties, testimonials, and outings for the employees in appreciation of their work. For example, in July 1925, the New Britain Herald reported in an article entitled "Kloiber Gives Bonus To Force of Employees" that employees of the New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation were surprised when they received along with their regular pay, a bonus from the earnings made during April, May, and June that amounted to eight percent for the employees who had worked during those three months and four percent to employees who had worked less than three months.
Christmas parties were the traditional time to announce end-of-year bonuses. For example, on December 18, 1945, the New Britain Herald printed an article entitled “Dry Cleaning Company Entertains Employees” reported that following a Christmas dinner, Rudolph Kloiber, president, presented bonuses to the employees based on the time they worked for the company. Employees working five or more years received a bonus of 15% of their quarterly wages; those working one to four years, received 10%; and those working six months to one year received 5% of their quarterly wages.
On December 13, 1948, another article in the New Britain Herald entitled “Local Firm Sponsors Party for Employees” reported that during the New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation's annual Christmas party, a bonus was given to all employees by Woodrow G. Kloiber, secretary, on the following basis: A full week’s pay was given to employees who had been with the company for one or more years, and a half week’s pay to employees who were hired during the previous six months. A donation of $62.25 ($584 in 2011 dollars) was given to a former employee who was ill.
Testimonials and gifts for employees reaching service milestones or at retirement were the norm. Watches were given to employees reaching 25 years of service. In an article that appeared in the New Britain Herald on December 20, 1967, it was reported that Mr. Frank Merkle, retiring after 50 years of service, was presented with a color television from the company and a purse of money from the employees at the company’s annual Christmas party. A picture accompanying the article shows Mr. Merkle with five other longtime employees totaling 193 years of service with the company.
Another way of keeping in touch with employees was a monthly newsletter which was published by the company and distributed to all workers. Called the “Spotfinder,” this small publication included news of anniversaries, retirements, illnesses, expressions of sympathy to those who had lost family members, etc., all interspersed with jokes and news of past employees. The November 1, 1944, issue emphasized workers’ rights as citizens. “The Spotfinder has no political affiliations and has no intentions to talk politics. It is, however, the duty of self and country of all who are eligible to vote to cast their ballot on November 7th, and may the best man win. On our local state ticket, we have, as most of us know, one of our own fellow workers who is running for State Representative on the Democratic ticket. She is none other than Sophie Liss of the silk finishing department and the Spotfinder takes pleasure to congratulate her on her rapid strides in politics and wishes her luck in this campaign.”
Involvement in the community
The New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation served many organizations in the community as well as their retail customers. Among the company’s services was cleaning the New Britain High School football uniforms and cleaning the Normal School’s curtains and blankets. Workers would go to the Normal School, remove all the draperies and rehang them when done.
Besides managing the company, Rudolph was personally active in community affairs. He was a deacon and member of the People’s Church on Court Street, a member of the Elks Club, and a member of the Lions Club. Rudolph was also well known for helping the blind. He was a member of the Blind Committee of the Lions Club of New Britain for many years. In 1946, during his chairmanship of the committee, he donated, free of charge, the use of a building that he owned at 92 West Main Street for the blind who lived in New Britain and surrounding towns. Rudolph, and members of the Lions Club, renovated the building to include rooms for recreation, education, and social gatherings. A ground floor retail store was incorporated into the renovation for the sale of articles made by the blind.
At the state level, Rudolph was a member of the Cleaners and Dyers State Advisory Committee to work with the State Consumer Committee in handling consumer problems in Connecticut. The advisory committee, which was composed of representatives of retail dry cleaners, chain store cleaners, and wholesale cleaners, was the authoritative source through which information from the State Consumer Committee was distributed to the cleaning and dyeing industry. The committee also made suggestions as to which policies or methods should be adopted by the State Consumer Committee.
End of an Era
In what started as a two-person dry cleaning business in 1912 grew to become a strong and successful business presence in New Britain. The New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation became the largest dry cleaning company in New Britain and one of the largest in central Connecticut before it was sold in 1974, 62 years after it was founded. Success was achieved through difficult times (two world wars and a depression) and prosperous times (two postwar recoveries) because of Rudolph Kloiber’s, and later Edgar’s and Woodrow’s strong visionary leadership, their good planning, a willingness to take calculated risks, and caring for their employees.
This history would not be complete without mentioning the spouses of these successful men—Margaret Rau, Rudolph’s wife; Veronica Arbour, Edgar’s wife; and May Herrington, Woodrow’s wife. It has been said that behind every successful man, there stands a supportive woman and that was certainly true in the history of this company.
Lastly, all the men who ran the New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation, and their spouses, are no longer living. Rudolph died in 1947; Margaret and Veronica died in 1969; Woodrow died in 1992; Edgar died in 2006; and May died in 2010.
This history was compiled by James Woodrow Kloiber (Rudolph’s grandson) based on company documents and public records.
- Rudolph J. Kloiber’s Certificate of U.S. Citizenship dated July 6, 1906.
- 1916 State of Connecticut Taxation of Miscellaneous Corporation document for the New Britain Dry Cleaning Corporation.
- July 1925 article in the New Britain Herald entitled “Kloiber Gives Bonus To Force of Employees.”
- December 18, 1945, article in the New Britain Herald entitled “Dry Cleaning Company Entertains Employees.”
- November 12, 1946, picture in the New Britain Herald entitled "Lions Redecorate Recreation Center for Blind."
- Undated article in the New Britain Herald entitled “Kloiber Appointed to State Committee.”
- September 4, 1947, Connecticut State Department of Health Medical Certificate of Death of Rudolph J. Kloiber who died on September 3, 1947.
- September 3, 1947, obituary in the New Britain Herald entitled “Worker for Blind, R. J. Kloiber, Dies.”
- December 13, 1948, article in the New Britain Herald entitled “Local Firm Sponsors Party for Employees.”
- July 1954 article in the National Cleaner & Dyer magazine by Henry Mozdzer entitled “Should You Buy New Equipment Now?”
- December 15, 1960, picture in the New Britain Herald entitled “Presented with Watch.”
- December 23, 1964, picture in the New Britain Herald entitled “Services Rewarded.”
- December 20, 1967, article and picture in the New Britain Herald entitled “Merkle Retires After 50 Years At Cleaning Firm.”
- June 9, 1969, obituary in the New Britain Herald entitled “Prominent Woman Dies in 94th Year.”
- August 3, 1974, article and picture in the New Britain Herald entitled “Purchase Unites Cleaning Firms.”
- February 22, 1992, Mystery Photo in the New Britain Herald showing a two-story building in the background.
- March 14, 1992, article in the New Britain Herald entitled “Crown Ice Cream Co.” referencing the February 22, 1992 mystery photo picture.
- July 5, 1997, article in the New Britain Herald by Arlene C. Palmer entitled “New Britain Dry Cleaning One of City’s Oldest Businesses.”
- Various New Britain Dry Cleaning advertisements throughout the years of operation.
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