Ask a Historian: What’s the history of Pilgrim Laundry?
Fred of Park Slope asks: “Tell us about the history of Pilgrim Laundry in Windsor Terrace.”
It’s a very interesting, modern history, Fred. And a positive story about Brooklyn chutzpah.
Dating back to its founding in 1894, the company guaranteed fairness to its employees. The founders, James Dann and Edward Bancker, were convinced that their business would thrive if they gave their workers reasonable labor conditions. Most of their workers were women, years before the women’s movement would get in full swing.
The company added a Latin motto signifying its principles: “Non Solum Noble,” or “Not for Ourselves Alone.” Even in the last century, this attracted attention and set the standards for the company.
After a fire, they had opened a new plant in Windsor Terrace by 1913 that included recreation facilities and even a vacation clubhouse for employees. By 1938, Pilgrim even sponsored a baseball team that played against other companies in Prospect Park’s Parade Grounds. I assume the players were male. But they played against teams from E.R. Squibb, Abraham & Straus, Charles Pfizer, Brooklyn Boro Gas and the Navy Yard Club.
Another advanced business approach in 1921 was to allow employees to buy stock in the company. By 1937, over 50 percent of Pilgrim Laundry was employee-owned. When Bancker died in 1939, Time magazine wrote a profile of the company. His will allowed employees to buy his shares so that they owned 75 percent of Pilgrim Laundry by 1950.
Ads in The Brooklyn Eagle promoted saving 10 gallons of water every washday by “calling Pilgrim today!”
Unique to the company were its green electric delivery trucks, 24 of which operated in Brooklyn. Emblazoned on the truck’s side was a pilgrim standing on a rock holding a gun while staring into the sunset. While the factory was located in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, the Pilgrim business served Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Long Island. At its peak, the factory employed 500 workers.
Unfortunately, fate intervened with construction of the Prospect Expressway in 1953, which split the Windsor Terrace and Park Slope communities. Then Pilgrim was acquired by another company and the federal government opened an investigation of the stock acquisition, causing anguish among the former employees. The company closed in 1971. In 1983, the block long factory was demolished and replaced with 2-family homes.
Subsequent articles about the company appeared in New York Magazine in 1972 and The New York Times in 1974. Further research can be found at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
Ask a Historian is written by John B. Manbeck, the former Brooklyn Borough Historian. To find answers to your questions about our fair borough and its history, fill out the form below.
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