University of Otagoheader image header image



Technology: Ironing Progress

Like washing, ironing was another task many women did not look forward to. It was hot work, with the kitchen stove kept blazing for a long period to provide heat for the irons.

Irons could easily become coated in soot, making clean clothing dirty again in no time at all. In the days before thermostatic control it was also easy to scorch the fabric. The fact that irons were heavy added to the physical nature of the chore.

The new thermostatically-controlled electric irons of the 1930s gave the housewife the ability to complete the family ironing quickly and safely without damaging the garment being ironed.

'Sad' irons were solid metal irons'Sad' irons were solid metal irons that were heated on a stove. Perhaps the most well-known sad iron was 'Mrs Potts Patent', patented in 1871 by Mary Florence Potts. Unlike other sad irons, Mrs Potts Patent irons had detachable handles so the handle would not heat up along with the iron as it sat on the stove. Mrs Potts Patent irons were still being manufactured into the early 1950s. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

This newspaper advertisement from the 1890s illustrates the different models of the Potts range outlining their uses and, of obvious interest to the housewife on 'the Flat', their individual weights! (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

box ironsUnlike sad irons, box irons were hollow, containing a metal slug that was heated until red-hot and inserted into the iron. These later evolved into charcoal irons that were similarly hollow but filled with red-hot charcoal. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

goose ironAlthough more common amongst milliners and tailors rather than in the home, specialty irons were also often used for specific ironing tasks. A long flat iron with a long handle known as a goose iron (pictured here) could be used to press seams. A tally iron, a hollow metal cylinder on a stand heated with a hot poker, along with goffering and crimping irons were used for ironing bows, ribbons and frills. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

Fuelled ironsFuelled irons, (right) using the likes of paraffin, petroleum or alcohol, began to appear in the late nineteenth century. At the turn of the century, gas was used to heat irons by way of a flexible pipe that fitted onto the nozzle at the end of the iron and which fed the gas into it (shown left). Although available from the beginning of the study period, these irons typify the increasing ease of the once laborious task of ironing, which would get even easier with the introduction of the thermostatically controlled electric iron. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

electric ironsAlthough the first electric irons appeared in the 1880s and 1890s, thermostatically controlled versions were not available until the mid-1930s. Thermostats revolutionised ironing by eliminating the guesswork of trying to get the iron at the correct temperature for a particular fabric and saving time by allowing continuous ironing whilst maintaining the correct temperature. Electric irons now began to outstrip their older non-electric rivals. The electric iron displayed here is an Edison Hotpoint, manufactured in the United States. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

[Next:Vacuum Cleaning]

Site last updated 25/07/03
Best viewed in Internet Explorer