ST. LOUIS — , In celebrating its 75th Anniversary recently, American Drycleaner sought out the longest-running family-owned operation in America, expecting maybe to find one or two that have celebrated a centenary. But at 115 years old, Morgenthaler’s, based in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood, Mo., beat all other entrants by decades.
Run by Jeanne Morgenthaler Wolf and an in-law, Cindy Morgenthaler, the operation is now in its fourth generation of family ownership. In 1894, “My great-grandfather bought an existing dyeing company for $145,” Wolf says. “The cleaning business developed through the years.”
Represented by her grandfather, Albert, the second generation expanded Morgenthaler’s Cleaners & Dyers with deliveries from its downtown St. Louis plant. “They did hotels and a lot of commercial business,” Wolf says. “When my father, Eugene, got involved, he managed operations, and my Uncle John did the accounting.”
The business continued to expand until the City of St. Louis bought out Morgenthaler’s to build a new convention center. After a lifetime in the business, “my father didn’t want as big a facility,” Wolf says. “He decided to do just the drapery part of things. He knew drapery cleaning was a lucrative business, and he didn’t have to have all of the special equipment needed when cleaning clothes.”
The pared-down Morgenthaler’s concentrated on specialty cleaning of window treatments and household items, offering wholesale services to other operators. When Eugene Morgenthaler decided to retire, “my brother and I decided to keep the business going,” Wolf says.
Today, she and in-law Cindy operate the latest plant, built in 1989. “We’re keeping our heads above water, even in these economic times,” Wolf says. “Draperies are coming back — there was a time people just had blinds, but fabrics are playing a big part in decorating homes and businesses.
“The main secret to our success is service,” Wolf adds. “A lot of customers like to deal with a smaller, family-owned operation.”
And chances are good that the 115-year-old business will continue to be family-owned and family-operated for many years to come, she says. “Our two families have nine offspring, and all of them have worked in the business. “They all have experience in the business, whether they like it or not. I personally never thought I’d be doing this, but when opportunity knocks, you seize it.”
American Drycleaner sent the nation’s oldest known family-owned drycleaning operation a $75 gift card in recognition of its longevity and success. Congratulations, Morgenthaler’s!