Cultra Irons on window ledge 1910


Mill Isle, Ireland

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Cultra Irons on the window ledge of an Irish Cottage

_Tuesday was usually set aside for ironing, a chore that took all day and was nearly as tiring as washing. As one expert noted, “Ironing is admitted to be somewhat trying work, because necessarily much heat is involved; but orderly procedure and good methods will prevent the worker from getting into a flurried state of mind.”

The 1886 edition of Practical Housekeeping advised, “When inviting friends for visits of a week or more, try to fix the time for the visit to begin after the ironing is done.” The point being that the homemaker would be in a better frame of mind and have more time for cooking meals and tending to her guests.

Women of the time undoubtedly would have been using a “sad iron” to press their families’ clothes. One meaning of sad in nineteenth century dictionaries was “heavy.” Although many of these irons were small, they were very heavy.

When sad irons were heated near an open fire or on the stove, their handles became red hot. Women tried wrapping aprons or towels around the handles, but still burned their fingers. Mary F. Potts endeared herself to countless women when she patented a much lighter sad iron with a detachable wooden handle._

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The first type of Iron Was a Flat iron or Sad iron (“sad” meaning heavy) which could be heated on a fire or kitchen range, or sometimes on a special stand.

Sad Irons came in many different sizes and were made from cast iron which made them heavy to lift and often too heavy to hold and use easily. You needed to own several so that a new one could be heated up while one was being used. You could test to see if it was hot enough by spitting on it.

Flat Irons were replaced by Box Irons (hollow metal boxes filled with heated metal or charcoal). One type was the hollow metal box iron with a lift-up door at the back. A small piece of cast iron, which was the same size as the box, would be heated in the fire grate until it was red hot and it would then be placed inside the iron. In a second type, the hollow metal box would be filled with glowing coals from the fire.

By inserting a pair of bellows through a hole in the back, the user could raise the temperature although use of the bellows could cause showers of soot and ashes to fall on to the newly washed clothes.

Electric irons came on to the market in 1890 and were developed with dials to control the heat. Later water compartments were added to provide steam, which made ironing much easier.

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