Monday, October 24, 2011
The Truth About Sadirons
QUESTION: Recently, I purchased an old iron at a local flea market. On the top of the heavy iron base is molded the word “sadiron.” Was this the brand name or a name people called this type of iron?
ANSWER: A flatiron pointed at both ends and having a removable handle is commonly referred to as a sad iron. First used in 1738, it became a regular household item by the mid-18th century and continued in use until the last decade of the 19th.
From research, historians know that the Chinese started pressing cloth using hot metal before anyone else. At the same time, Viking women used simple round linen smoothers made of dark glass along with smoothing boards to iron cloth. Others used hand-size stones which they rubbed over woven cloth to smooth it, polish it, or press it into pleats. And while some may have dampened linen first, it’s unlikely that these women heated their “smoothers.” Later glass smoothers, called slickers, slickstones, or slickenstones, had handles. It wasn’t until the late Middle Ages that blacksmiths began forging smoothing irons, heated by a fire or on a stove, for home use.
People began to call these flat smoothing irons “sad” irons, based on the Old English word “sad” meaning heavy, dense, or solid. Although most of these irons were small, they were very heavy, thus women looked forward to ironing day with some distain, knowing the drudgery it entailed.
On Mondays, women washed both clothes and bedding. They reserved Tuesdays for ironing, a chore that took all day and tired them as much as washing.
Women needed to own at least two irons—one for ironing and one for re-heating—to make the sadiron system work well. Large Victorian households with servants often had a special ironing-stove on which to heat the irons, fitted with slots for several irons and a place to set a water jug on top.
With no way to control temperature, women had to constantly test to see if their iron was hot enough by spitting on its heated underside. They learned the right temperature by experience—hot enough to smooth the cloth but not so hot as to scorch it. So they wouldn’t burn their hands, they had to grip the handles of their irons with a thick rag.
She received another patent for an iron with a hollow body which could be filled with a material that didn’t conduct heat, such as plaster of Paris, clay or cement. In her patent, Mrs. Potts claimed that these materials held the heat longer so that women could iron more garments without reheating their as often.
Mrs. Potts exhibited her new sadiron in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. She prominently featured her picture in advertising for her new iron.