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Information > Our History > Cleaner Times Article



    On January 16, 1920, the Volsted Act was placed in effect, prohibiting the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcoholic beverages within the United States. Ironically, it was this Act - or more appropriately, the defiance of this Act - which led to much of the economic prosperity and innovation experienced throughout the 1920s.
    From the onset of the Volsted Act's enforcement, a vast criminal underworld spawned as U.S. citizens purchased illegal alcohol and concocted homemade "bathtub gin." By 1926, illegal liquor traffic was an estimated three-and-a-half billion

dollar industry. And in 1927, Al Capone's bootlegging operations earned him $105 million - the highest gross income ever received by a private U.S. citizen.
    In 1925, Collier's magazine sent three reporters across country to study the magnitude of the insubordination. What they uncovered was a major breakdown in law enforcement as defiance of Prohibition was encouraging citizens to flout other laws.
    By 1933, this epidemic of rebellion ultimately led to the Volsted Act's demise as the "noble experiment" was dubbed a clear failure. Prior to that repeal, however, a young Pennsylvania inventor actively defied the laws of Prohibition, and through his resistance an industry was born.

Ofeldt's Still

    It was sometime in 1926 when Frank W. Ofeldt II, an employee of a western Pennsylvania producer of gas-fired water heaters and boilers, made his breakthrough. Ofeldt was busy piddling in his home's garage, perfecting his design of a portable whiskey still for a local moonshiner, when he noticed an unusual phenomenon. As the gadget's steam outlet aimed downward, a wet steam hit his greasy garage floor and the grease literally began to crawl.
    Because Ofeldt came from a family of pioneers in steam engineering, he recognized that steam alone - being a wholly gasified liquid lacking in mass or body - could


relocate the grease but could not remove it. He detected the potential of his discovery, however, and quickly began his crusade to create a cleaning contraption that would mix his newfangled wet steam with chemical.
    His pursuit led him to Homestead Valve Company in search of a pump casting. There he first met Frederick E. Schuchman Sr. who, also perceiving the possibilities of Ofeldt's findings, immediately

took a special interest in the project. "In fact, if it had not been for my dad, there probably never would have been a Jenny," explains Mr. Schuchman's son, Fred E. Schuchman Jr. "Frank Ofeldt was a neat guy. He was a brilliant, rough and ready engineer, too. But he had the marketing sense of a nit."
    Ofeldt and Homestead's Schuchman joined forces and soon began developmental work on what was temporarily termed the "Hypressure Vapor Spray Generator," for lack of a better name. Then a man named Mr. Eitinge - a brother of the world-famous female impersonator Julius Eitinge - wandered into the Homestead plant.
    Mr. Eitinge had taken an advertising course while in prison and was looking for work as an ad man. He examined Homestead's "Spray Generator" and asked what the strange apparatus did. "They explained it generated a high pressure vapor spray and he replied, 'Well, why don't you call it a "High Pressure Jenny?"' explains

Schuchman. "And the name stuck." Homestead did not hire Mr. Eitinge, but they did pay him somewhere in the area of 20 dollars for rights to the Jenny name. "I can't imagine them calling it the Ofeldt Cleaner," Schuchman concludes. "It just wouldn't have been the same".

Meanwhile in California...

    Along in the same general time frame that Ofeldt's whiskey still was cleaning his floor, a man named Walter Kerrick in California uncovered the same basic manifestation, although the specific details of his discovery are somewhat more sketchy. What is understood is that Kerrick took his findings and obtained what became known as the "Kerrick Patent".
    "Walter Kerrick invented his version of the steam cleaner which embodied the principle of a coiled tube and forced circulation and got a patent on it, but he couldn't build it. So, he approached Mr. Clayton (William Clayton Sr.) who bought the rights to it and employed Kerrick as chief engineer for a time,"explains Mr. Clayton's stepson, Burt Walker, who has worked for Clayton Industries since 1957.
    Clayton Industries, formerly Clayton Manufacturing, officially opened its doors as Chemical Processes Ltd. on October 20, 1930, about one year after Homestead began commercially producing Jennys.

The Earliest Sales

    As with any new product, Homestead and Clayton faced the dilemma of creating a need for the steam cleaner. "Back in those early days, you really had to sell the need for cleaning because it just wasn't done," says John Slemenda who joined

Homestead in 1952 and who now owns Farmland Equipment with his son in Sandy Lake, Penn. "Everybody just had greasy overalls and that's how they worked on things."
    Yet, these early salesmen faced other problems as well, primarily due to misinterpretation of the term steam. "The minute you said 'steam cleaner,' people would think it was a steam vessel that could explode," explainsSchuchman. "Of course, this was physically impossible as long as you didn't incorporate several things required to make a steam chamber. But it took a lot of explaining. You had to teach them what the latent heating range meant, and that was very difficult. In fact, I didn't even try because I was not a physical scientist; I was just a guy trying to sell steam cleaners."
    "It was a misnomer," adds Slemenda. "What would come out of the end of the gun, of course, was high temperature and it did bloom to where it appeared to be steam, but it was a spray of approximately 85 percent water, 15 percent steam. The connotation was that steam would burn you and it would damage."
    The earliest Jenny sales were made to Homestead's existing valve customers, which were primarily steel mills and manufacturing plants. Clayton's earliest clients were also industrial accounts, which remained the company's primary market until competition began increasing in the mid-1930s.

Malsbary's Role

    As Frank Ofeldt II and Walter Kerrick were fashioning the first steam cleaners. Job Fordyce "Ford" Malsbary's technological innovations were shaping his entry into the steam cleaning industry, which occurred around 1933. The


groundwork for his admission actually began around 1918, shortly following his return to California after serving in World War I.
    It was then that Ford Malsbary started Malsbary Garage which, incidentally, largely catered to Model-T cars. "During that period, he had to do a lot of axle straightening because the roads weren't very good," explains Walter Malsbary, Ford's son. "So, he made a burner that utilized gasoline as fuel, vaporizing it and blowing it into a combustion chamber. He then placed the axles into the chamber and heated them red hot so he could straighten them."
    Around 1921, California passed an act that required sterilizing utensils for Grade A and Grade B milk production prior to reuse. Although boilers were common in that era, they were too expensive for the typical small farmer. Ford recognized the dilemma facing these modest dairies (most of his family members were dairy farmers) and so by incorporating his axle straightening technology, he began producing dairy sterilization units. "He designed a little coil-type heater which used this gasoline vaporizing type burner as a heat source. He fired up into a coil he wound out of pipe," Malsbary explains.
    Ford's heaters progressed from gasoline to kerosene to stove oil as new fuels became available. "Then, as propane and LPG came into the market, he went into gas burners, but still used a coil type system where he could heat the

hot water just by opening a valve to get more water flow," adds Malsbary.
    Ford Malsbary eventually created systems using hot water as well as steam for utensil sterilization. These systems met regulatory requirements and they worked with the low water pressure levels available in the rural areas of that era. "The pressure they had was maybe seven to 10 pounds, and they used standard pumps that fed the storage tanks." As demand for the units increased. Ford began making larger dairy sterilizing systems which remained his main source of business into World War II.
    The background of the coil-type dairy sterilizer heating system led to his making of steam cleaners as a sideline in the early 1930s. "It was simply taking the same basic concept, making them bigger, running more water, finding a way of introducing chemical, designing a means of applying the spray with steam guns and so on," Walter Malsbary explains. "They were rather crude initially."
    In truth, each of the early manufacturer's units were "rather crude" by today's standards. Yet each of these manufacturers developed the technologies that soon led to the development of the pressure washer.

Technological Breakthroughs

    "A lot of the people who entered this industry during its development were geniuses in their ability to make things work," says Slemenda. "It's easy to look at these early machines and laugh, but you have to remember what the industry was like back then. You couldn't just look through a supply catalog and order the parts that you needed.

Everything had to be specially made. And although some of the items were crude in their appearance and design, they functioned - they did the job. It was a very creative period in the cleaning equipment business. " With very few exceptions, such as valves, no suitable parts were available on the market in those earliest days. Pumps, burners, thermostats, guns, switches and other various components each had to be developed and constructed by individual steam cleaner manufacturers. "Mr. Clayton's thinking was that you really couldn't control quality and get what you wanted unless you built it yourself," explains Walker.
    "He wanted to make everything in-house, and practically did. We built things that nobody else ever built, and nobody ever understood why we did it." One of the biggest challenges that faced these early manufacturers was creating a positive displacement pump capable of handling the caustic chemicals used in those days without eating the packings or diaphragms. Somehow, each manufacturer managed to do just that and do it rather well.
    Homestead is credited for building the very first positive displacement triplex pump with an oil-bath crankcase for steam cleaners, fabricated back around 1934. "We used it for moving chemicals in plants where they needed a husky, adjustable flow three plunger pump. Of course, then we had them on a few machines as well," explains Don Gross who has been selling Jennys since the late 1930s. Due to cost concerns, Homestead later switched to a less expensive reciprocating piston pump around the late 1930s.
    Clayton's early hydraulic engineering led to the company's introduction into


the steam generator market in the 1930s. "Getting a good, reliable, long-life positive displacement pump is one of the main tricks in making a steam cleaner, and particularly a steam generator work," explains Walker. The generator was an outgrowth of the steam cleaner, only it produced dry steam for industrial processes. Today, Clayton still produces steam generators although the company discontinued steam cleaner production in the early 1980s.
    Ford Malsbary made numerous discoveries as well, but some of those developments were indirectly due, at least in very small part, to the attitudes taken by Homestead and Clayton. Both companies had obtained various patents on a number of processes, but each had very different ideals on how to treat those patents.
    "Fred's dad (Mr. Schuchman Sr.) never pursued isolating or restricting the use of those patents because he felt that cleaning was going to be such a broad field that it would require many people getting into it to help develop the industry," Slemenda explains. The only license that Mr. Schuchman really enforced was the trademark for the Jenny name.
    Walter Kerrick, however, patented the steam cleaning process soon after his initial discovery, prior to joining with Mr. Clayton. The patent, according to Walter Malsbary, covered the basic "steam cleaning process combining a constant volume


pumping system with a chemical where you put the full pump volume through the heating coil, achieving a certain temperature and discharging through a restrictive nozzle."
    Malsbary had already begun building steam cleaners when Clayton began enforcing use of the patented process. "So consequently, Clayton, being the good business people they were, approached all other manufacturers and went after them for royalties," says Malsbary. By this time, several small steam cleaner manufacturers had entered into the market, and some were complacent with paying fees to Clayton. One such example was All Kar Products (renamed American Kleaner in 1965), a chemical manufacturing company founded by Allan A. Foster and Carl Drury that began selling steam cleaners around 1936. "In many cases, they would sell the same market as Clayton, but All Kar's cost of doing business was much higher since they had to pay the royalties for the equipment that they manufactured," explains Norman Foster, Allan Foster's son. "At that time, the steam cleaners were just considered a way in which the user could dispense the chemical product. So, they didn't mind paying the royalty inasmuch as their profit dollar at that time was derived mainly from the chemicals."
    Others, such as Ford Malsbary, saw the royalties as
an excuse to conduct further developmental work. After paying Clayton royalties for a couple of years, Ford created his own patented process which he called Hydraulic Pressure Cleaning, or HPC. With HPC, "you no longer were dependent upon a pump pumping a constant volume to put that entire amount of liquid through the heating coil, as a basic steam cleaner does," explains Walter Malsbary. "Instead, he had a pump pumping many times the volume that was required for the steam cleaning process, metering the water into the coil, he could generate a variety of cleaning actions. He was no longer dependent upon generating steam pressure within the coil to create the velocity because he was using hydraulic pressure."
    Ford's new process was developed around 1938 and ultimately patented around 1941, marking the first of the so-called "combination machines" to enter the market. This new design also created some unique developments in the pumping system. "Where most steam cleaners were operating at about 60 to 90 pounds, we were operating on the pump side (until about 1946) at 300 psi on the pump side and 150 to 200 pounds on the heater coil side. This was because we had a variable flow rate through the coils where we could hold the solution under pressure with no steam formation. We had to have precise temperature control


on the discharge - which we did - and that's where the 325 degrees F comes from that everyone promotes but doesn't truly understand."Malsbary adds.
    By controlling the temperature and varying the pressure, HPC could create several cleaning actions. First, it produced steam cleaning at varying pressures. Second, by turning off the burner, it produced high pressure cold water which ran at higher volumes and 300 pounds. Third, it produced high pressure hot water, with or without chemicals. Fourth, it produced "wet steam" which could be used for applications such as curing concrete blocks. And finally, it could operate as a regular hot water heater. And so, with the introduction of HPC, the first pressure washer was created.
    But Malsbary's technological breakthroughs did not stop with HPC. Mr. Malsbary aimed to make his machines more user friendly as well. "From an engineer's point of view, the Clayton machines were beautifully designed products, but they were a bear to maintain because they were too complex for the average operator," Walter Malsbary explains. Simplistic design was one thing that led to Malsbary's early prosperity. "At that time, the basic philosophy of the Malsbary company was to build them so that they didn't have a lot of piddly things. When you look at today's machines, they're almost an electronic nightmare. But


in those days, the Malsbary's control system was all operated either by air pressure or gas pressure and we used all mechanical controls. The only electrical device was the switch to start the motor, which consequently meant there was very little servicing involved." Keeping the user-friendly idea in mind, as Ford developed HPC, he also patented a process that was known as "blow-down." By utilizing built-in gauges properly placed on the machine, the user could determine the degree of scale buildup in the heating coil. Then, through a process of opening valves in the proper sequence, the user could test the back pressure, dry out the coil and "give it a shot of high pressure water at pretty good volume to blow out loosened scale," explains Malsbary.
    Walter Malsbary says he still occasionally incorporates the blowdown process (excluding the built-in valving) into the machines he builds for his own company, Walters Manufacturing, "just to prove a point." But, the blow-down process is no longer utilized by most manufacturers, not because the process is too intricate, but primarily because today's coil sizes are too small to allow enough velocity for the process to work.
    "A lot of the old Malsbary machines are still running, and they haven't made them for 40 years," Malsbary adds. "But you can't afford to build stuff like that anymore. People just won't buy it."
Fortunately, people were willing to pay for those extra features 60 years ago, and so as new manufacturers entered the market and as steam cleaning technology improved, industrial and commercial appeal heightened as well.

Expanding Markets

    Like Clayton and Homestead, the new steam cleaner manufacturers that emerged in the 1930s began hitting industrial markets as well. "All Kar saw a need for specialized equipment and that was primarily what they designed - steam cleaning equipment for the industrial market," says Norman Foster. "Being as my father had a background in bakeries (he had been a baker before joining Chem Therm Manufacturing), that was one of the target markets which they selected in the initial stage."
    The diversity and size of the Malsbary's machines appealed so much to industrial users that, unlike the other big players of the 1930s, industrial remained its main source of clients. "We were into large industrial - truck fleets, aircraft and places where they had heavy-duty cleaning contractors," Malsbary explains. "As a matter of fact, you couldn't make a big enough machine to take care of some of the cleaning requirements, but we made as large a machine as anybody did in the marketplace at that time."
    But, as the industrial market became more

saturated, the industry's forefathers began looking to new markets. One of the biggest marketing developments originated in the late 1930s as Clayton took the revolutionary step of shifting from industrial to automotive accounts. "There were a good many people in those days who took pride in the appearance of their car, even down to the engine compartment," Burt Walker explains. "So, there were a number of people who would, on a regular basis, go to a gas station and have their engines cleaned so they would look nice."
    Clayton had already exploited the glamorous West Coast when Homestead, centered in the industrial East, entered the market. As Jenny's sales territories expanded beyond Pittsburgh, Jenny hired agents rather than full-time sales personnel to cover those areas. "A couple of agents just weren't doing anything, so a
fellow named Don Kray went out to see if he could find someone who would do a better job," says Schuchman. Kray located a gentleman in the automotive aftermarket business who, after watching several demonstrations, said he thought he could sell the Jenny to automobile shops. "And so he tried it and was astoundingly successful."
    Success, especially in those earliest days, was dependent upon hard work and dedication by the salesmen, which in the beginning primarily consisted of the companys' principles. Travel was often a requirement, and equipment demonstration were a must. "The first equipment they sold, they actually sold themselves," explains Foster. "At that time, you'd put the machine on the back of a pickup truck or trailer and you got out and demonstrated it, showed the customer how to use it, and
you created the need and the demand. Steam cleaners were still in the embryo stage. Many companies felt they were still specialty type products. Others felt steam cleaners weren't effective since labor appeared to be cheaper. They really had to go out and help create and develop this market. Most of this was done through hard physical work and demonstration."
    And that hard work paid off despite many odds. The steam cleaner was founded through illegal practices and developed during inopportune times. Yet the perseverance of these early pioneers fathered the equipment through its infancy, laying the groundwork for an industry.
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