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The History of Ironing

Ironing is one of the common household chores today. It is often needed for outfits like school uniforms and work clothes. Our clothes have to be wrinkle free for us to look more presentable and put together. However, most people are actually not fond of doing this chore because it’s hot, most find it boring, and it requires you to stand the whole time.

Though ironing has been a common household chore for us, have you ever wondered how this practice started? If you’re curious, we are going to tell you all about the history of ironing.

Man ironing using old Iron

History of Ironing

Long before the iron we use today was invented, the process of ironing was already around, and people used different methods to remove the wrinkles on their clothes. There was a time that only the wealthy have the privilege to have their clothes pressed because the way it was done was difficult that they have to hire people to do it.

Greeks used what was called a goffering iron in about 400 B.C. to make folds on linen robes. A goffering iron looks like a rolling pin that has to be heated before using it.

The Romans also invented several types of irons. One of them was the hand mangle which is a flat metal paddle or mallet and was used by hitting or beating the clothes. Another one was the prelum which is made of wood that looks close to a wine press. It is used by putting the linen in between two flat heavy wooden boards which are also placed between a turn screw. The pressure exerted by the turn screw presses the fabric.

In China, they also had different kinds of irons. In ancient times, they used the pan iron which you put hot coal or sand then put the hot flat bottom of the pan and move it across the fabric. During the 1st century B.C., they use metal pans with hot water to straighten their clothes and remove the creases of the fabric.

During the tenth century A.D, Vikings from Scandinavia used a linen smoother which was made of glass and in the shape of a mushroom. It was placed near steam to heat it up and dragged throughout the fabric.

The first iron that would be recognizable by today’s consumers was first seen in Europe around the 1300s. It was a type of flat iron which is composed of a piece of smooth iron and a metal handle. It was held over or in a fire until it was hot enough to be used. When using the iron, you have to pick it up with a padded holder and a thin cloth as a barrier between the iron and the clothing to protect the fabric.

At around the fifteenth century, the iron box was introduced which was also known as the hot box or slug iron. It was made of a metal box with a smooth flat bottom and a handle. It was used by putting hot coals or any other heating elements inside. The thin cloth between the iron and the clothes is not necessary anymore.

In the nineteenth century, cast iron was invented which fixed some of the challenges of using a flat iron. It was heated on top of cast iron stoves which makes it easier and cleaner than using fire.

In the 1800s, using cast iron was used to make the sad iron. It was called sad because in Middle English sad means solid. It was quite heavy (15lbs) which made it harder to control. It can also be heated on the stove but sometimes not heated evenly. The handle also heats up which makes it harder to use.  

In 1870, American Mary Potts fixed these problems by placing a cardboard base which is packed up with plasters of Paris on the iron’s body which made it cooler. Plaster of Paris is a combination of lime with sand or even cement and water. She also created a detachable wooden handle for the sad iron since wood doesn’t hold heat the same way iron does. It helped to prevent burns.

The gas iron was made once gas was available in American homes during the late 1800s and the earliest patented was in 1874. A gas iron was connected to the gas line using a pipe. It contains a burner where the gas flows and when you lit the burner with a match, which then caused the iron to heat up.

In 1882, the first electric iron was invented by Henry W. Seeley. The iron was used by hooking it up to an electrical source using a detachable wire. Just like most early electric irons, it didn’t include an electric cord. The issue with his iron is that it was heated on a stand which caused it to heat up very slowly and it would cool quickly.

As time went by, electric irons evolved to the ones we are using today. The irons we have now are much easier to use than what was used before. We no longer have to place it over a fire and keep reheating it when we need it. We simply just have to plug it in and use. It is also lighter and easier to control and includes built-in steaming options to make the ironing process easier and more effective.

It’s amazing to know that the practice of ironing clothes dates back to thousands of years ago. And who would’ve thought that the clothes iron has been transformed in many ways over time before it became the device we use today?

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