In most homes this third day of the week is reserved for ironing. The whole day should be reserved to complete this job.
The Iowa Housewife, 1880 I think not!

I have always had a love of vintage things, perhaps because I lived with some of those vintage things growing up. That is not to say that my mother was old, certainly not. I think more than anything, she was a good steward of what she had and knew the value of her appliances and tools.

The things that are manufactured today are not “built of the stern stuff” so to speak and have a definite replace or wear out date, recently called EOL, End of Life. The appliances and tools of early generations were built to last and wear out and replacement was rare.

My mother’s iron was not of the sad-iron variety, but it was old; stainless steel bottom, ironing surface, with shiny, chrome sides and a black Bakelite handle. It had the fabric wrapped cord and the black Bakelite two pronged plug. It got hot, let me tell you! In the process of all my early 4-H projects, I had a blister or two.

Mother also had an Ironrite. Our family has owned quite a few of those. Mother had one with a wooden top that, when closed, looked like a beautiful, walnut side board.

When I was researching on the web in order to find my own Ironrite, I learned many interesting facts about irons and mangles—what the roller-type ironing presses are called. Mangle seemed to fit, I’ve caught my finger in the roller before.

Blacksmiths started forging simple flat irons in the late Middle Ages. Plain metal irons were heated by a fire or on a stove. Flat irons were also called sad irons or smoothing irons. These were typically made of cast iron, and may beautiful antiques can be found today if you are patient in your search. The “sad” in sad iron (or sadiron) is an old word for solid, and in some contexts this name suggests something bigger and heavier than a flat iron. The weight of the piece was also useful in pressing the wrinkles out of clothes. Goose or tailor’s goose was another iron name, and this came from the goose-neck curve in some handles. In Scotland people spoke of gusing (goosing) irons.

Yes, so, by saying I’m going to go goose my wardrobe would be a correct, although weird statement.

A well-known test was spitting on the hot metal, but Charles Dickens describes someone with a more genteel technique in “The Old Curiosity Shop.” She held “the iron at an alarmingly short distance from her cheek, to test its temperature…” I think I prefer having a temperature dial, thanks!

Other methods were available to the rich. Medieval launderers preparing big sheets, tablecloths etc. for a large household may have used frames to stretch damp cloth smooth, or passed it between “calenders” (rollers). They could also flatten and smooth linen in screw-presses of the kind known in Europe since the Romans had used them for smoothing cloth. Later presses (see right) sometimes doubled as storage furniture, with linen left folded flat under the board after pressing even when there were no drawers.

Even in modest homes with no presses, large items needed to be tackled with something bigger. They could be smoothed with a mangle board and rolling pin combination; many wonderfully carved antique Scandinavian or Dutch mangle boards have been preserved by collectors. The board, often carved by a young man for his bride-to-be, was pressed back and forth across cloth wound on the roller.

In England boards, paddles or bats like these were called battledores, battels, beatels, beetles, or other “beating” names.

In Yorkshire, a bittle and pin was used in the same way as the Scandinavian mangle board and roller. The earlier mechanical mangles copied this method of pressing a flat surface across rollers. The box mangle was a heavy box weighted with stones functioning as the “mangle board”, with linen wound on cylinders underneath, or spread under the rollers. The boards/bats used for smoothing were similar to wooden implements used in washing: washing beetles used to beat clothes clean, perhaps in a stream. Sometimes they were cylindrical like the mangle rollers, sometimes flat. Instead of pressing you could simply whack your household linen with a bat/paddle against a flat surface.

Mangles with two rollers could also be used for wringing water out of fabric. Many Victorian households would complete the “ironing” of sheets and table-linen with a mangle, using hot irons just for clothing. In the UK laundry could be sent for smoothing to a mangle-woman, working at home, often a widow earning pennies with a mangle bought by well-wishers after her husband’s death.

By the late 19th/early 20th century US commercial laundries described the mangling or pressing of large items as “flatwork” to distinguish it from the detailed ironing given to shaped clothing.

By 1823 someone in England had patented a design for a upright mangle to meet the obvious objection to the “common horizontal mangle”: “namely, the great space they occupy”. Soon the distinction between mangling as smoothing, and mangling as wringing, became blurred, since very similar machines were suitable for both purposes. Patent mangle became the British name for all sorts of Victorian mechanical mangles

The Ironrite Ironer, was manufactured in Mount Clemens, Michigan, from 1946 until 1961. The automatic ironer, also called a mangle, was an electric appliance that used a roller and a cast-iron shoe to press clothing. Company brochures promised homemakers that an Ironrite ironer could take them away from

the “nerve-racking method of lifting, pushing and pulling a heavy, hot hand iron back and forth hundreds of times to complete an ironing.” the Ironrite could be found in many home laundry rooms.

The Ironrite business was established in Detroit in 1911 by Herman A. Sperlich and John H. Uhlig as a jobbing machine shop. Manufacture of washing machines began in 1917, and production of

Ironrite ironers commenced in 1921, with J.L. Hudson’s as Ironrite’s first retail dealer. The corporate name was changed to The Ironrite Ironer Company on May 12, 1927.

Ironrite reached its heyday shortly after WW2 when the servicemen returned to the states and took jobs. The first Ironrite Ironer rolled off the production line January 30, 1946 and an estimated 400 units per day would soon be produced.

Production and employment numbers soared, and the plant was expanded in 1950. During the Korean war, the company was awarded government contracts for the production of electric triggers and tooling for 105 millimeter gun parts; at the same time, demand for the ironers remained high.

The Mount Clemens Ironrite plant employed about 400 at its peak, but new advances in clothing manufacture and a change in corporate structure eventually spelled the end for Ironrite. In September, 1959, Ironrite merged with Dielectric Products and Engineering Company of Raymond, Maine, a manufacturer of electronic components. As sales of the electronic division skyrocketed and

sales of the Ironrite division sagged, Dielectric decided in December, 1961, to cease production of Ironrite ironers. A workforce of about 200 was idled and the plant was eventually sold to a bicycle manufacturing firm. (Information taken from, from The Mount Clemens Public Library.)

—————————

Since my Mother and my sisters had “mangles” that I had used to press hankies or nice linens, I always wanted one of my own. I found a rusty, old Maytag brand near our “newlywed” home. We talked the guy into selling it to us for $50. We could have offered him $5, I think. But we didn’t know much then. My husband’s friend was a mechanic and he looked over the motor and filled it with oil. The cord needed replacing too and then I pressed a few dishtowels with it. I was in love!

Later though, when my husband joined the Army, the Maytag got hauled off to the Salvation Army and I was left again to use my own sad-iron. It was sad because it just didn’t measure up to those fabulous rollers where I could press miles of sheets in minutes.

Twenty years would go by before another mangle rolled into my life. While living in Washington State I found an Ironrite on Craigslist and called. It was still available! Then another one came to me, and then a Maytag brand mangler. One Ironrite machine went to my dear friend; and the Maytag eventually got sold at a yard sale. The Ironrite is the best model to me. The roller is attached from the middle and balances from the center. The maytag brand mangle’s roller is attached on the left side and after years and years of use it begins to warp and lean.

There is just something comforting in crawling into bed where the sheets have been pressed with a mangle. I have even perfected the skill of pressing men’s shirts under those rollers. The warm smell of clean clothes is almost cathartic to me.

I have always thought, as I’ve read books like Little Women or the Little House series, that I wanted to be just like Marmee or Ma Ingalls. Doing things in a “basic, earthy” manner always appealed to me. Though I’m sure I would starve or freeze if I had to actually kill my food and chop wood to survive. The romanticism of it all is dreamy.

Perhaps it is the frugality that appeals to me the most, every piece was used, each item had a purpose for which it was valued and kept and cared for–a scrap of lace here, a ribbon there. The sap from the “sugar-tree”, even the stomach of a calf provided a few hours of play when blown up like a balloon. Homesteading on our own land is stirring those feelings of “back to the earth.”

I am just beginning this new adventure, and we will be making mistakes along the way, but we will have freshly pressed sheets on our bed as we fall into it after a long, hard day of homesteading.