Pressing Matters | From Charcoal Power to Smart Technology

It is impossible to imagine life without electricity, heck nowadays people cannot live without wifi, forget dial-up, for more than a couple of hours.

Let me take you back to the time before Faraday had solved the problem of generating an ongoing electric circuit. I will be focusing on the clothing iron and how it was improved upon as we advanced technologically.

The purpose of the iron was well, to smooth out wrinkles or add pleats onto the clothing. Humans are aesthetic beings- we like beautiful things and a wrinkly disorderly shirt was not pleasing to the eyes. The Chinese were the first ones reported to have figured out that heat could smooth out wrinkles when a fabric was stretched.

Coals in a pan were used as an iron while another person stretched out the cloth

By the Middle Ages, blacksmiths had begun to forge solid irons. The iron would be heated atop a fire, however, this was tedious work. The iron had to be constantly placed back on the fire to keep it from cooling down. Hence, in more wealthy homes, there would be multiple irons. For instance, in Downton Abbey, Carson, the Butler, uses the flat iron, which were heated on a hearth-style stove (shown below), to press newspapers for the Earl.

A solution for the prevention of cooling was devised, the box iron or charcoal iron was used. Box irons had this compartment between the handle and the bottom of the iron which would be filled with hot coals, bricks, etc. Box irons powered by charcoal are still used in some parts of the world where electricity is not readily available.

Irons used to weigh around 8–10 lbs on average

As the use of electricity became widely common, the electric iron became commercialized. Previously, people would pay a pressing person to iron their clothes but after the invention of the electric iron, every household had a personal iron.

During the Information Age, dials, heat setting, digital displays were added. Steam irons were invented and integrated into the electric iron. Now, we have smart irons.

Smart irons are great; they are light, aesthetically pleasing, and safer but the fact that the box iron is still used today makes it a successful design. The box iron was successful before and still is because it is not dependent on electricity. The box iron was more successful than the flat iron because it could stay warm for long periods. There was no need to constantly place the iron back on the hearth. Moreover, you have a large range of choices of your heat source; if you don’t want to deal with the mess of charcoal, you can replace it with a heated brick which will provide just as much heat for just as long.

Overall, the clothing iron has become more efficient and safer since its commercialization.