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 as illustrated in the drawing to the right. 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.
By the early 1880s more than one person had considered powering ironing with electricity, but Henry W. Seely of New York was the first inventor to make this idea workable and patent it too. Seely developed a design in 1881, got a patent in 1882, and then worked with his partner, Dyer, to patent a different “electric flat iron” in 1883. Seely and Dyer had doubts about having the iron continuously plugged in, as “connecting [it] permanently with the circuit […] may be inconvenient in some cases”. They invented a sort of “cordless” iron, on a stand heated by electricity. This echoed developments in using gas for ironing, where gas-fed iron-heaters or ironing-stoves were serious rivals to irons on lengths of rubber tubing.
Just thought you’d like to know!
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