Ironing boards can be found in most homes and often get quite a lot of use, especially if you and your family wear many business or dress clothes. In fact, ironing boards are such a commonplace tool that many of us have never stopped to ask ourselves, who invented the ironing board? The invention of the ironing board has an interesting history that begins with the Vikings and culminates with one of the first-ever African American women to receive a patent, Sarah Boone. This article explores the history of ironing boards so that the next time you find yourself ironing clothes, you can truly appreciate the invention of the ironing board.
The Invention of Ironing Boards:
As far as we know, Vikings in the 9th century were credited with using the first ironing boards. They fashioned their ironing boards out of whalebone and used heavy pieces of glass to smooth their clothes.
By the time the early 19th century rolled around, using a kitchen table, a specific ironing table, or a flat wooden board between two chairs for ironing clothes became common practice in Europe, North America, and worldwide. Some people even started using a cloth or blanket on top of their ironing table, making their method closely resemble the modern patented invention we know today.
The 1st Ironing Board Patents: Mid 19th Century
As the search for a better ironing board continued, some of the first patented inventions were issued in the mid 19th century.
- The very first ironing board patent was issued to W. Vandenburg and J. Harvey in 1858. Their newly patented ironing board was designed for pressing both sleeves and pant legs flat. However, it left a lot to be desired and had limited versatility.
- Almost three years later, in 1861, a man named Isaac Ronnie Bord invented and took out a patent for an ironing board with an adjustable flat surface for pressing clothes and bed linens. The adjustable surface enhanced the ironing experience quite a bit.
- In 1866, a woman named S. A. Mort received the first patent for a folding ironing board. This new ironing board design was a drastic improvement compared to past ironing boards. Her invention also featured a pressboard for ironing sleeves that was removable. This invention made it possible to put your ironing board away in a smaller space when it was not in use.
- The first portable ironing board was patented by the inventor and engineer Elijah McCoy. The portability of this ironing board made ironing clothes more accessible in different locations while keeping the space-saving design invented by Mort as well.
Improving the Design: Sarah Boone in the Late 19th Century
Approaching the end of the 19th century, on April 26, 1892, Sarah Boone obtained a United States patent for improvements to what was then known as the ironing board. Sarah Boone is the most recognised inventor of the ironing board, and her invention is officially recognised as the precursor to the modern ironing board.
Sarah Boone’s ironing board was foldable and had a narrow, curved shape to the board. This new narrow, curved ironing board shape helped iron the sleeves and bodies of ladies garments significantly easier. Her ironing board was also reversible, allowing you to slip a sleeve over the end and iron it on either side. Sarah Boone’s ironing board was significantly more useful and convenient and quickly caught on with consumers and manufacturers alike.
The Life of Inventor Sarah Boone
Sarah Boone, or Sarah Marshall before she was married, was born in Craven County, North Carolina, close to a town by the name of New Bern, North Carolina, in 1832. Sarah Boone was born into slavery and, as a result, was denied a formal education. However, her family taught her to read and write at home, which later gave her the ability to write her application to file for her ironing board patent.
Sarah Marshall married her husband, James Boone, in 1847. James Boone was a free man at the time, and shortly after their marriage, Sarah Boone was also freed from her enslavement. The Boone’s moved to Connecticut just before the American Civil War broke out, and Sarah eventually became a mother to eight children.
Sarah Boone worked as a dressmaker and seamstress for most of her life. As a dressmaker and a mother, she was well acquainted with ironing clothes and easily saw what improvements could be made to the ironing boards of the time. She recognised the benefits of a narrower, curved design and was eager to make them a reality.
Sarah’s husband died in the 1870s. Fortunately, Sarah was successful enough to have owned a house at this point. Years later, she submitted her patent application.
Sarah Boone died in 1904 at the age of 72 and was buried in New Haven, Connecticut. She was one of the first African American women ever to be awarded a patent. Eight years prior, Judy Reed was the first African American woman to have a patent approved and awarded for her Dough Kneader and Roller invention. To our knowledge, Sarah Boone did not invent anything else during her lifetime.
As different manufacturers started producing ironing boards, advancements were made. At the end of the 19th century, in 1898, ironing boards were available with legs that folded down. It gave ironing boards the ability to be set up in any location. Most of these ironing boards were wooden and designed to resist warping, but they often warped anyway.
Later, ironing boards started to be made with a metal top, but they were known for buckling and rusting. That is, of course, until companies started using a mesh covering to allow steam and heat to escape.
Modern Day Improvements
In 1940 the collapsible ironing board made completely of metal with tubular legs, like the ones our family uses today, was fairly common. Since then, the invention of the ironing board has remained relatively the same. Of course, there have been some minor changes and some specialised inventions, but for the most part, the ironing boards we use today look much like the ones used 80 years ago.
Ironing in Your Home
Ironing boards have come a long way since people laid a board between two chairs. Now that you know who invented the ironing board and all about the inventor, Sarah Boone, maybe you’ll have a newfound appreciation for this common household laundry tool. And maybe, you’ll even think of Sarah Boone and her revolutionary success the next time you do your laundry and use it as a form of motivation.
Let us know what you think in the comments below.