Accession number: 2001.002.029
Date: before June 8 2006
Materials: wood; metal
Measurements: 132 cm L x 34 cm W x 78 cm H
Narrative: No one can say exactly when people started trying to press cloth smooth, but we know that the Chinese were using hot metal for ironing before anyone else. Pans filled with hot coals were pressed over stretched cloth. A thousand years ago this method was already well-established. Meanwhile people in Northern Europe were using stones, glass and wood for smoothing. These continued in use for "ironing" in some places into the mid-19th century, long after Western blacksmiths started to forge smoothing irons in the late Middle Ages. It may seem obvious that ironing has to be done on a flat surface, but there have been exceptions. Chinese pan irons were sometimes used on cloth stretched in mid air between two people. Ancestors of the ironing board include, in the West, the whalebone smoothing boards buried with Viking ladies, and in the East, the stone slabs used with Korean ironing sticks. The smoothing boards, about 33 cm or 1 foot long, are thought to have been used with the glass linen smoothers also found at Viking burial sites. Boards small enough to hold on your lap were still in use in the 19th century. Known as press boards, these were often used for ironing seams while dressmaking, but could also be used when pressing laundry. A kitchen table or a board supported by two chairs were both in common use for ironing before the days of the mass-market folding ironing board. There was plenty of advice in 19th century housekeeping books about what size an ironing table should be (various opinions), what wood it should be made of (pale softwood for cleanliness, oak for strength), and how it should be covered (thick woollen ironing-blanket in white baize or red flannel, with a sheet or ironing-cloth on top). Folding ironing boards arrived as the Victorians channelled their inventiveness into finding better ways of managing a household. The first US patents for these appeared in the 1860s. Some shapes that we would now call ironing boards were called ironing tables. Inventors designed ironing bureaus, and even ironing tables combined with quilting frames. Different boards were made for specialised tasks like ironing sleeves, and there were ironing board accessories for special jobs like ironing bonnets.
Description: This wooden ironing board has two sets of legs connected with four wooden spindles. Three of the spindles are round, the fourth is square. The legs of the ironing board are bolted together in the middle for folding purposes. The top of the board is an elongated oval shape that has been nailed to the folding legs.