21 Sept 2021

The more things change . . .

. . . the more they stay the same.

I bought two irons this month that were manufactured over 100 years apart and was intrigued by how similar they were in design. Both have a double point base, a rounded handle, and need to be placed on a heat source before ironing. The technology for each iron was vastly different, but the concept was the same.

I bought the older iron at my favourite antique shop. It's a Mrs. Potts Cold Handle Sad Iron. The "sad" in sad iron is from the Middle English word sad which meant solid or heavy. 

Vintage Sad Iron Advertising

The second iron I bought was a Panasonic Cordless 360° Freestyle™ Steam/Dry Iron. This iron is so similar to the Sad Iron I suspect the designers at Panasonic really knew their clothes iron history. 

Panasonic Cordless 360° Freestyle™ Steam/Dry Iron circa 2018
Panasonic Cordless 360° Freestyle™ Steam/Dry Iron circa 2021

Mrs. Mary Florence Potts

Who is Mrs. Potts and What is a Sad Iron?

Mrs. Potts was born Mary Florence Webber in 1850 in Iowa, US. When she was 17 she married Joseph Potts who was a Civil War veteran 17 years her senior.

In 1871, at 19 years old, Mrs. Potts patented the Cold Handle Sad Iron changing the clothing iron industry forever and making her one of the most famous woman of her time. The wooden handle stayed cool for ironing and was detachable so that the user could keep several iron bases on the stove at one time then switch to a new hot iron when the first iron cooled.

The Sad Iron Kit

When Sad Irons came on the market in the late 1800s the Mrs. Potts Sad Iron Set sold for a whopping 0.70 cents! The set came with three iron bases, a detachable wooden handle, and a trivet. You could also buy the bases separately if you needed more. 

Sad Irons were used well into the 1940s; mainly because some rural communities still didn't have electricity. The Sad Iron was manufactured until 1951.

Sad Iron Kit and Trading Card
Sad Iron Kit and Trade Card

Sad Iron Trading Cards

Trade cards were a very popular form of advertising in Victorian times and thousands were used to  advertise the Potts' Sad Iron. The cards were quite comical and sometimes quite racist.

Not sure what the message is in this trading card. Maybe the woman loves using her new Sad Iron so much she's heating up the house with it?

Him: "Gracious! Do stop ironing. I am sweating fearfully just sitting here."
Her: "Well dear, you know I use those Mrs. Potts' Cold Handle Sad Irons
and I am just delighted with them."

This trade card suggests using the Sad Iron as a compress for a child's stomach ache?! And it's racist AF!
Woman: "Ah Chile. Yous bin eatin' dem watermelons. Come yere honey.
I'll just put dis ere Mrs. Potts' Iron to yer stomach. It retains
de heat and an will help yer. Dis season is bad for the chillum."

I guess the message in this trading card is "So easy a child can use it." Sure, what could go wrong?

Girl: "Oh Ma! I want to stay home and iron, this new iron is so nice."
Mother: "What? Not gone to school yet. You'll catch it."


  1. My first newsletter from you - enjoyed reading the history.

    1. Thank you. It was a lot of fun to research.