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In Memoriam: Bernard Milch, Founder, Laundrylux

Holocaust survivor adapted Swedish-made equipment into popular Wascomat brand

INWOOD, N.Y. — Bernard Milch, the retired founder of Laundrylux, died Sunday, the company reports.

“It is with sadness, admiration and respect that Laundrylux announces the passing of its founder, Bernard Milch, at age 93,” says son 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.”

The elder Milch was a Holocaust survivor, having lost much of his family in World War II, the company says. He came to the United States with $8 in his pockets and the dream of a new life. He started in business as a mechanic. 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 the Italian steamship Andrea Doria in the Atlantic Ocean, near Nantucket Island.

He was astonished that the machines functioned after a violent collision, being submerged in seawater, and drying 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!’ says Neal Milch, “and seize it he did.”

The elder Milch made inquiries to the Swedish manufacturer and eventually purchased a Wascator washer for testing and technical investigation, certain he could adapt them for the growing coin laundry and institutional markets.

He obtained the sales and marketing rights for Wascator machines in North America. He regularly ate lunch at the self-service coin-operated “Automat” restaurant and liked the modern-sounding name, so he decided to use the name “Wascomat” for marketing coin-operated self-service washers.

He was convinced commercial front-loading washers in larger sizes than appliances could revolutionize the industry as the baby boom exploded, and quickly was proven right, the company says.

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.

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 USA with virtually nothing, Milch was now a Swedish Knight. “Only in America!” he used to say.

Milch retired as CEO in 2007. His company, Bermil Industries Corp., which distributed the Wascomat and Electrolux brands of commercial and professional laundry equipment in North America, unified its equipment offerings under the Laundrylux trade name for purposes of marketing, advertising and communications in 2010.

“Laundrylux is what it is today because my grandfather had such drive and determination,” observes 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 his savings, worked incredibly hard, and became the quintessential American success story.”

Electrolux issued this statement about Milch’s passing: “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 career. 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 which drove him for decades drives Laundrylux forward today.”

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 Milch to share them via [email protected].