Week 4: Gas-Heated Iron

Wait, is that an iron?

How does ironing work?

How has ironing changed from place to place over the years?



Answers:

Wait, is that an iron?

Yes, this is a clothes iron that used kerosene for heat. It was made in Ohio by the Royal company in the 1920s. While it may seem surprisingly unsafe now, gas-heated clothes irons were commonly used from 1900 into the 1970s.

How does ironing work?

When you iron clothes, the action happens on a microscopic level. As the weight of the iron presses down, the heat loosens bonds on long-chain polymer molecules in the fibers of the material. As they are allowed to cool, the molecules keep their new flat shape. These days we don't have to iron nearly as much because of advances in the materials used to make clothing.

How has ironing changed from place to place over the years?

In China over a thousand years ago, metal pans were filled with hot coals and placed over stretched cloth to flatten creases. In Korea and Japan, ironing clothes was traditionally done by beating the cloth across a smoothing stone with mallets, which in Korean were called "pangmangi." In fact, beating laundry to get it clean has been done by cultures all across the world since ancient times. The first electric clothes iron was patented by US inventor Henry Seeley in 1882, and weighed almost 15 pounds. Before clothes irons were self-heated, they were known as flatirons, or sometimes sadirons, which came from the Old English word "sad" for "solid" or "weighty." They were simply solid iron, and were heated in a fireplace or on a range. This made them difficult to keep clean. The Karshner Center has several sadirons in our collections as well, on display now in the History of the World Through Technology exhibit!