Little Bits of History

Strike While the Iron is Hot

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 4, 2011

Poster for Mrs. Potts' sad irons

April 4, 1871: Mary Florence Potts of Ottumwa, Iowa receives a United States patent # 113,448 for a detachable handled sad iron. The iron was originally sold as a set of three hollow bases with one handle and a stand with Mrs. Potts’s picture on the box. The extra bases were to be left on the stove to heat while the rushed housewife ironed and then switched the handle to an already heated base when the present one cooled. Eventually, the hollow bases were filled with plaster of Paris, cement, or clay in order to sustain the length of time that the iron was hot.

By 1894 Montgomery Ward Catalog was carrying Mrs. Potts’s invention. The set of three nickel plated bases were 70¢ while the handle cost 15¢ and the base was an additional 5¢. The iron did have some problems. It heated unevenly making it possible to scorch portions of cloth in one area while not having enough heat available to actually get rid of wrinkles in another.

China in the 1st century BC had pans filled with charcoal that were used to get rid of wrinkles. In ancient Rome, irons were used to add creases to togas. By the 1600s sadirons or sad irons, where the sad was used to mean solid, came into use. Heavy, solid metal blocks with heat resistant handles would be heated and used to smash out wrinkles or add pleats, as the case may be.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all manner of fuels were being used to make heat for ironing: kerosene, alcohol, whale oil, natural gas, acetylene, and gasoline were all used. Natural gas was piped into houses and used for a variety of tasks, such as lighting, cooking, and ironing. The first electric iron was invented in 1882 but it was not useful. A thermostat was finally added in the 1920s which allowed for ironing without scorching the fabric. Steam was finally added by Thomas Sears.

“Marrying is easy, it’s housework that’s hard.” – proverb

“My husband and I have figured out a really good system about the housework: neither one of us does it.” – Dottie Archibald

“Housework can kill you if done right.” – Erma Bombeck

“Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.” – Simone de Beauvoir

Also on this day:
US Flag – In 1818, the US adopted a new flag.
Robert Walpole – In 1721, Walpole became England’s first Prime Minister.

2 Responses

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  1. Eric Marshall, M.Ed said, on March 9, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Hello, What a nice tribute to a great inventor!
    There are currently fewer than 75 Mrs. Potts’ style Sad Irons cataloged in the popular iron collecting books; this book will exhibit more than 150 previously undocumented irons. As you will see, every significant iron manufacturing company produced at least one line of the Mrs. Potts’ Cold Handle Sad Iron.
    This book is designed to catalog as many variations of Mrs. Potts’ Sad Irons (MPSI) that are available. There are radical differences in some MPSI, and subtle differences in others. This book will illustrate various producers of the MPSI, variations in sizes, multiple manufacturer logos, varied forms and styles, and obscure manufacturing companies. Such variations exist due to the pervasive demand for the Mrs. Potts’ Sad Iron (MPSI).
    The Mrs. Potts’ Sad Iron Collector’s Guide Parts 1 & 2 are now available. Just Google this: Mrs. Potts’ Collecte\or’s Guide.

  2. Eric Marshall, M.Ed said, on March 9, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Mrs. Potts’ Collector’s Guide Part 1 & 2

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