Laundry industry pioneer and innovator Bernard Milch, who founded Laundrylux
, died this past weekend at age 93.
“It is with sadness, admiration and respect that Laundrylux announces the passing of its founder, Bernard Milch,” announced Neal Milch, executive chairman of the company’s Board of Directors. “It was an honor to work alongside my father for 25 years. He was a business genius and innovator. As a third-generation family business, we honor Bernie’s legacy as he would want, by taking care of our distributors and end customers every day.”
Milch was a Holocaust survivor, who lost much of his family in World War II. He came to the United States with $8 in his pocket – and the dream of a new life. In 1956, he was hired to assess damage to the laundry room aboard the Swedish American Line’s M/S Stockholm after it had collided with an Italian steamship in the Atlantic Ocean, near Nantucket Island. He was astonished that the machines functioned after such a violent collision, and being submerged in sea water and then dried out.
“I’m convinced that a ray of light from the heavens illuminated the stainless-steel Swedish washers at that moment, and little cherubs with wings fluttered around Bernie’s ears, whispering ‘This is your opportunity, Bernie, seize it!’” Neal said. “And seize it he did.”
Milch, who had started in business as a mechanic, made inquiries to the Swedish manufacturer and eventually purchased a Wascator washer for testing and technical investigation. He was sure he could adapt them for the growing coin laundry and institutional markets.
Bernie Milch obtained the sales and marketing rights for Wascator machines in North America and – since he ate lunch at the self-service coin-operated “Automat” restaurant and liked the modern sound of the name – decided to use the name Wascomat for marketing coin-operated self-service washers. He was convinced commercial, frontloading washers in larger sizes than appliances could revolutionize the industry as the Baby Boom exploded. And he quickly was proven right. Baby Boomers generated a lot of family laundry, and Milch was ready to serve them.
Electrolux, which purchased Wascator in 1973, credits its growth in professional laundry in North America to the extraordinary marketing efforts of Milch and his team. Bernard Milch was honored by the Kingdom of Sweden in 1980 for his contribution to Swedish-American business when he was knighted with “Nordstjerneorden,” the Order of the North Star. From a refugee who came to the U.S. with virtually nothing, Milch was now a Swedish Knight. “Only in America!” he used to say.
“Laundrylux is what it is today because my grandfather had such drive and determination,” observed Cody Milch, president of Laundrylux. “He was a visionary who saw possibilities at a time when conventional wisdom said he was crazy trying to sell a more expensive machine from Scandinavia. Ignoring the skeptics, he risked all of his savings, worked incredibly hard, and became the quintessential American success story.”
Commenting on Milch’s passing, Electrolux
stated: “Bernard Milch’s contributions to the industry are unquestioned, and it is no coincidence that so many leaders of the industry in North America worked for or with Bernie at some point in their careers. Electrolux has done business continuously with the Milch family longer than any other customer, which is a testament to this remarkable man. The same passion that drove him for decades drives Laundrylux forward today.”
“On behalf of the Coin Laundry Association
, its staff and Board of Directors, I extend our condolences to Bernie Milch’s family and friends,” said CLA President and CEO Brian Wallace. “There aren’t many people who can rightly be called industry legends, but Bernie Milch certainly fits the bill. Very few have had such a lasting impact on the vended laundry business. His innovative thinking and entrepreneurial drive pushed the vended laundry concept into the modern era. Personally, I’m very fortunate to have known Bernie and will always remember – and continue to benefit from – our many chats about what’s best for the laundromat business.”
Bernard Milch is survived by his wife, Lusia; his children, Neal and David; and his grandchildren, Cody, Julia and Jason. The family invites anyone with photos or anecdotes of Bernie to share them via firstname.lastname@example.org