Irons: In the Fire And Other Places
by Marjorie Dorfman

page 2

early electric ironThe electric iron came into being on June 6, 1882 with a patent issued to a Mr. Henry W. Seely of New York City. The Seely iron weighed about 15 pounds and took a very long time to warm up. It was called the "electric flatiron" and it utilized a carbon arc to create the necessary heat. This was not considered a safe method, however, and in 1892, General Electric and Crompton and Company began marketing hand irons using electrical resistance and they set the standard that has been in use ever since. This iron had an electric heating element in the base and a traditional hand-held metal chunk on the top. It always stayed hot, which was its primary selling point although its cord was a problem. Later irons would have the heating elements built into the hand-held tool.

steam ironThe first mass consumer electric appliance is considered to be the American Beauty Iron, which was manufactured in Detroit from about 1912 to 1995. Two-piece irons like the Boudoir, provided electric heat and kept the tool clean, which was an advantage over those irons heated over a wooden stove. Probably dating from the time of World War One, this iron is particularly valuable to collectors if it can be found in its original packaging

The technology of bringing steam into the home wasn’t available until the 1930s. Among the very first home steam irons to be successfully marketed was the Steamelectric. It was basically a kettle with a polished flat base. Water boiled inside the kettle to produce the steam, which was emitted through the sole plate. About 1941, the first thermostatically controlled iron, the Steam-O-Matic (model A-300), was introduced. Edward Schreyer created the mechanical design, which has been the basis for all steam irons that followed.

During the early 1950s electric steam irons were introduced and there was a period of intense competition among iron manufacturers that is known as the "Holey Wars." Proctor began the race with an advertising campaign that boasted of 15 steam jets. By the end of the race, some manufacturers featured over 100 steam vents. The industry standard evolved to be about 22 holes spaced evenly around the perimeter of the sole plate.

steam ironOne of the problems that needed "ironing out" included their weight. This was due to the fact that in these early steam irons a water tank was necessary to contain the steam. Also, these appliances could not be used for "dry" ironing. Getting the water in the tank high enough to assure the proper flow of steam to the evaporation chamber was another problem. Many early steam irons utilized an external water supply that could be removed.

So the next time you look at that iron that is now a fixture in your household, consider that it deserves a new and much overdue respect. It has, after all, evolved exclusively for your convenience. Don’t get too grateful though. Next thing you know your iron will demand a promotion, a raise in pay, a vacation and God knows what other unreasonable fringy benefits!

Happy Ironing!happy ironing

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