When I was growing up, we ironed everything, from kitchen towels to the big duvet covers. Maybe it is because of that, that to me ironing is one of those chores, that is close to the bottom of my “things I don’t like to do” list.
Once, my husband and I went on a weekend trip to Halifax with our youngest 2 children. We stayed in a hotel downtown. As we had a walk about in the room, all of a sudden our youngest son – maybe age 6 at the time – came running, very excited, shouting:
“There is a surfboard in the closet!” We were surprised,
we were not in a beach hotel, nor anywhere close to a beach. So we followed him, and there behind the sliding closet doors was an ironing board. He probably never saw me using an ironing board before – so he assumed it was a surfboard.
Though, when I think about it, he had never seen me on a surfboard either.
So it I might seem odd, that I have developed an interest in the history of clothes irons, probably somewhat ignited by a recent purchase at an online auction.
Looking at the history, a conventional solid metal clothes iron of the 19th century weighed around 5 pounds (2.3 kg) to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and had to be heated on a stove. It was so hot, that often a rag or thick cloth mitt was utilized to touch the metal handle to prevent burning the fingers. Once this all-metal iron cooled down, the ironing job at hand had to stop until it was reheated.
Improvements were on the horizon.
Mrs. Pott's Sad Iron with Removable Handle - 1871
Sad Iron, U. S. Patent 113,448, April 4, 1871, Mary Florence Potts, Ottumwa, Iowa. The invention is a detachable handle for pressing irons. This permits a person to heat a number of iron bodies on a stove, attach the handle to one and iron with it until it cools, then attaching it to another heated iron body.
This is an ad for the Mrs. Pott’s Cold Handle Sad Iron. The base of this iron could be put on the wood burning stove to get hot while the wooden handle was removed by lifting the knob below the handle releasing it from the base. The advantage of Potts’s system was that there was always a waiting heated base ready to be switched out with the used cooled base, so the ironing could continue immediately.
The iron was more comfortable to use than the flat iron that had attached handles and made of steel causing the handle to become as hot as the base. A set of nickel plated sad irons sold for sixty-four cents. Extra handles could be had for eight cents each.
These images show a smoothing iron (sad iron) handle and a bases. The handle itself has no marks, dates or other recognizable features, and it will fit on all the bases.
The first base was manufactured by the A. R. Woodyatt & Co. foundry in Guelph, Ontario Canada between 1899 and 1902.
Size 2 (6.2″ long, 3″ wide and 1.5″ high) and weighs about 5 lbs.
The A. R. Woodyatt foundry was located in Guelph, Ontario
This company later merged with the Guelph Malleable company into the Taylor-Forbes company at Guelph, which continued to make sad irons.
The following image shows
2 bases (bodies) from the The Ives & Allen foundry, also known as H. R. Ives & Co, Montreal.
These are the Mrs. Potts-style sad iron. They are double-pointed in shape and they requires the detachable handle. The top plate is cast with lettering:
H.R. IVES & CO. MONTREAL at the top
MRS POTTS IRON PATENT GROUND.
The top plate has two convex slotted screws affixing it to the body of the iron. It has a smooth sole. It is embossed near the latching area: N0. 55 SIZE 1 (3.7 lbs., 6″ long, 2.5″ wide, 1.5″ high), the other Size 3 (5 lbs., 6.5″ long, 3.5″ wide, 1.5″ high)
These types of irons were usually sold in sets and the three or four bases shared a single detachable handle. One would keep a couple iron bodies heating up on one’s stove, while a hot was being used. When it cooled, one would unlatch the handle and pick up a hotter iron by latching the handle to it.
Asbestos Sad Irons - 1906
In 1906, there was a new invention in the iron department. The Asbestos Sad Iron design really did use asbestos.
It was under the handle, inside a “hood” or cover that fitted over a heated “core”. There was also a bit of air space between the iron and the cover to help keep it cool.
It “bottled up” the heat, said an ad, so it was all channeled through the hot solid steel surface that pressed the clothes smooth. No heat rose upward to bother the woman ironing.
Most often sold in sets of three there were other sets that came with various irons or bases.
Neither of the hoods has any identification marks as to where it was manufactured.
The 3 bases are all the same (5.8lbs., 6.5″ long, 3.25″ wide) and all the 72-B embossed on the top. There is more lettering, however, I am unable to decipher it.
I think it says Made (left) USA (right) – # 1 on both sides.
I will try to add to my collection, and update. As for now, I will continue to use my sad iron, a sad iron because it sits in a dark closet, barely used, not living up to it’s full potential.