Special Guest Blogger: Lauren McKinnon

Have you ever wondered about the history of the iron? A typical answer would probably be no, but here at Discovery Park of America we encourage you to “see beyond.” Behind the sad iron is a young woman named Mrs. Potts. It is because of her invention that we do not have to worry about burning our hands on a handle or having to pause multiple times as an iron reheats. Here are three interesting facts about Mrs. Potts and her sad iron.
1. Why is the iron “sad?”
There is a myth that claims ironing caused women to become sad; so her tool earned the name “sad iron.” The sad iron actually received its title from an old English word “sald” which meant solid or heavy; however, the myth does reflect the difficulty of ironing. In the United States, clothing and other items would be washed on Monday and ironed on Tuesday. It often took an entire day to complete the task which forced women to spend long hours by a hot fire in order for the iron to be continually heated.
2. Who was Mrs. Potts?
Mary Florence Potts lived in Ottumwa, Iowa, and was married to a Civil War veteran whose injuries from the war left him unable to work. Mrs. Potts was only 19 years old and the sole provider for her family when she patented her first sad iron in 1870. Having something patented in her own name was an incredible accomplishment for a young lady of the Victorian Era. Mrs. Potts was even featured on trading cards which served as publicity for her sad irons. A woman like Mrs. Potts was practically unheard of at that time, especially when you remember it would be another fifty years before women could vote!
3. What was so special about her sad iron?
Mrs. Potts’s second patented sad iron in 1871 included a detachable wooden handle. This was an evolutionary idea considering the handle and the iron had been made from the same material ever since its creation in the Middle Ages. When the traditional iron was left on the coals, a thick cloth or mitt was needed to lift the iron in order to prevent scalding the hands. Mrs. Potts’ wooden handle ensured there would be no burns. Her sad irons were also sold in sets of three so that while you used one iron, the other two would always be heated and ready to go. When one cooled off, you would simply detach the handle and reattach it to a hot iron. Her sad irons were in production for almost 75 years. Talk about a long success! It was not until electricity was made available to everyone that Mrs. Potts’s sad irons went out of style.

Next time you have to iron something you can thank Mrs. Potts for her contribution. Be especially thankful for her invention of a handle that does not scald your hands! A collection of historic irons can be found in The Farm House in The Settlement. Discovery Park of America is full of great exhibits that tell stories of inventions throughout history like the Technology Gallery, Transportation Gallery, and The Barn. General admission is $13.95 for adults (ages 13-64), $11.95 for Seniors (65+), and $10.95 for Children (ages 4-12). Children who are 3 and under are admitted free. Admission for our traveling exhibit, Jurassic Journeys, is $7 for adults, $6 for members, and $5 for students. We hope to see you soon at Discovery Park of America!

If you wish to see some of the Victorian trading cards that featured Mrs. Potts and her sad irons please visit ark.digitalcommonwealth.org
Information for this blog post was gathered from www.collectorsweekly.com, historymyths.wordpress.com, www.digitalcommonwealth.org, www.tribstar.com and Congressional Serial Set.