Object: Cigar Box

Cigar Box
San Antonio, TX
Materials: Wood, paper, ink

This cigar box in the Institute of Texan Cultures collections was for a private blend of cigars, made especially for the exclusive Travis Club in San Antonio. They were produced by the Finck Cigar Company in San Antonio, Texas.

In an interview conducted by ITC, the grandson of Mr. Henry Finck, Bill Finck speaks of the history of his family and the formation of the cigar company. Mr. Ryan Finck, the great-great grandfather of Bill Finck came to San Antonio from Germany where he published a newspaper both in English and German. Following an outbreak of cholera, Ryan Finck and his family (including Henry) moved to New Orleans in 1856. However, when they landed there was an outbreak of yellow fever running through the city. The family stayed in New Orleans until Henry made his way back to San Antonio in 1893.

While living in New Orleans, Henry learned about tobacco and the many diverse cultures in the region. When he returned to San Antonio in 1893 it wasn’t for business purposes but because he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was told that the dry air and gulf breezes in Texas would be good for him. However, he eventually discovered that he had been falsely diagnosed with tuberculosis and he recovered from whatever illness he was suffering from in New Orleans.

Finck Cigar employees in 1936. Image via UTSA Special Collections Library, Image Identifier 100-0274

With a loan of $1000 he started his own cigar business with a shipment of tobacco sent from one of his former employers in New Orleans. Back then the cigar business was booming in San Antonio and he was just one of several cigar manufacturers starting up in the city. As his business grew he obtained his tobacco from Connecticut, Cuba and South America. The Travis Club blend was made exclusively for the local men’s club and contained a mixture of several types of tobacco from different locations. The club building is featured on the cigar box both on the lid and on the inside. The club was started in 1909 and was the old Elks Club but was transitioned into the Travis Club. The club was located on the corner of Pecan and Navarro St. across from the St. Anthony Hotel.

Liberata Fernandez, employee of Finck Cigar Company since 1916 (ca. 1980). Image via UTSA Special Collections Library, Image Identifier 100-0279.

According to the Finck Cigar Company website, the Dominican blend of the Travis Club exclusive cigar is hand rolled by only the most beautiful of Dominican women. It is considered a privilege to be chosen to roll these fine cigars. Many of the employees have worked for the company for almost 70 years, including Liberata Fernandez who worked with the company for 86 years and Rafaela Sanchez who worked there for 72 years.

It has been said that the cigars may have been the cause of the Travis Club’s closure. In its last years the Travis Club opened its membership to young officers and students. The cigars, at the time only available to members, were so popular with these officers and the students that they pushed to have the cigars available outside of the club. But, once men no longer had to be a member of the club to get the cigars, club membership rapidly declined. The Travis Club blend cigar is still available today. Now offered in both a light blend and dark blend, they still come in a special box featuring the Travis Club building, long after the closure of the club. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Finck, Bill. Interview with Bill Finck Mary L. Croft. University of Texas at San Antonio, 30 January 1991. 1-35.

Parscale, Giles. Finck Cigar Company. n.d. 2018. http://www.finckcigarcompany.com/about/our_history.

Shannon, Kelley. “Texas Clan Keeps Family Cigar Firm Rolling Along” 02 March 1990. LA Times. Associated Press.

Object: Abacus

20th century
Materials: Wood, metal, paint

Before the invention of the computer or calculator, merchants used counting boards or an abacus to keep track of inventory and their finances. The abacus replaced other primitive counting devices such as fingers, sea shells and small rocks or sticks. Beginning in 2700 BCE the Sumerian people documented the use of an abacus, made up of small rods and beads using cuneiform figures and one of the first known number system. This helped them to devise all sorts of calculations. In the 19th century, a Greek version of the abacus was found on the Greek Island of Salamis that dates back to 300B.C.E. It was made of a marble slab that had smaller pieces of wood or marble used to count with. This was the design of the abacus used in Western Europe until the French Revolution.

It wasn’t until the 13th century that the Chinese abacus, or suan pan, was first known to be used. Around this time the Japanese also adapted their own version of the abacus called the soroban, which is the same style as the one in the collections here at Institute of Texan Cultures. Unlike the Chinese version, the Japanese version has two beads on each rod at the top known as the “heavenly beads” and 5 beads on the lower end of the rod, known as the “earthly beads.” The upper and lower beads are divided by a reckoning bar. Each bead on the upper rods represent a value of 5. While the beads on the lower end of the rods represent the value of 1. Each rod is a value of a tenths place, more than 9 rods are needed when calculating high number values.

There are several styles of abacus developed in China and Japan, including the 1/4, the 1/5 and the 2/5. Other countries have their own style of abacus. The Russian version, called the schoty, pronounced (SHAW-tee), was invented in the 17th century and each row has ten beads representative of our ten fingers. New versions of the abacus were still being developed as late as the 20th century. In 1958, a manual was published by Lee Kai-chen for a new style of abacus he recently invented. It is made up of two abaci. The top is the ¼ style soroban and the bottom is the 2/5 suan pan. He developed this hybrid version to help perform calculations of square and cubic roots.

Learning how to use an abacus is not a simple task and takes some time to master. There are many instructional videos and articles available online that show you step-by-step how to use an abacus. It is easier if you have one in front of you to fully understand its use. There are schools in the U.S and around the world that implement the abacus in their curriculum when teaching arithmetic. Children can learn simple calculations and keeps their hands busy at the same time, helping them learn how to focus. Even with all of our modern gadgets and easy access to calculators, learning manual calculations can be useful in case of power outages or emergency situations. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Ifrah, Georges. The Universal History of Computing: From the Abacus to the Quantum Computer. Ed. John Wiley. New York: F.A Praeger, 2001.

Pullan, J. M. The History of the Abacus. New York: Praeger 1970.

Object: Rail pass

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Rail Pass
San Antonio, TX
Materials: Paper & ink

The San Antonio and Aransas Pass railway or “SAAP” was a railway system that connected San Antonio to Aransas Bay . It was chartered in August 28, 1884 with its first stop in Floresville. It was one of only two railroad systems that came out of San Antonio. The railway was built to compete with the Galveston Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad which was part of the Southern Pacific rail system. The “SAAP” also helped to connect San Antonio to Corpus Christi in 1887, the destination port of Aransas Pass was not reached till 1889.  Vacationers rode the railway in comfort and style on their way between Corpus Christi and San Antonio. The cattle that used to be driven on this trail were now transported on the railway, which led to a healthier sleeker cow.

SA&AP passenger depot, image via http://saap.tnorr.com/

The SAAP was the dream of Uriah Lott, he was not a wealthy man but had drive and vision. His first rail was the Tex-Mex Railway, it began with only one mile of track and was built with the help of other investors such as the San Antonio Street Car Company and donors like Mifflin Kenedy from Corpus Christi . The “SAAP” railway pass in the collection of ITC belonged to Mr. Edward Kotula, an immigrant from Poland, who became known as the “Wool King of Texas”. He was also one of the first directors of the “SAAP” and was willing to invest to bring enterprise to San Antonio. He had a wholesale grocery store and a wool commission office off of Alamo Plaza and he also sold wool from the depot.

Most of the railway was made from parts of older railways no longer in use. Even the cars used were recycled, but they were needed to get this railway going. The only thing not secondhand was the depot, though not as impressive as the Galveston Depot, it had a steeple that gave the building its signature “look”. It opened in 1886 with the steeple at the front corner it had two floors. The ground floor was used for waiting, offices, lunch counters and had a telegraph service. The railway offices were situated on the top floor. It stopped functioning as a depot in 1925 and was the building was gone by 1935. The site, at the corner of Alamo St. and South Flores, is now home to the Salvation Army Thrift Store. This depot was where Teddy Roosevelt left with his Rough Riders in 1898, on their way to fight in Cuba. Today, if you want to sit in some of the old booths from the train depot you only have to walk to the Little Rhine Steakhouse which is only two blocks from the Alamo.

The San Antonio and Aransas Pass railway went under due to a financial crisis following numerous derailments and a deadly bridge accident. These accidents could have been due to the use of second hand materials or not setting a stable foundation under the tracks. Its last run was made in 1925. Most of the track has been abandoned but, as of 1994 some of it is still in use, running from San Antonio to Houston. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Bernstein, David M. Southern Pacific Railroad in Eastern Texas. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Pub, 2011.

Hedge, John W., and Geoffrey S. Dawson. The San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway: The Story of the Famous “SAP” Railway of Texas. Waco, Tx: AMA Graphics, 1983.

Hemphill, Hugh. The Railroads of San Antonio and South Central Texas. San Antonio, TX: Maverick Pub. Co, 2006.

Object: Button hook

Button hook
Materials: Metal, wood

Image by Birgit Brånvall, via Wikimedia Commons.

An essential household item in the  Victorian era, used on everything from garments to shoes. A button hook was an ideal tool to have on hand when needing to button a difficult button. In the Victorian era clothing, including shoes were worn tighter than clothes today and as close to the body as possible, with many buttons and laces to hold them in place. Shoes and articles of clothing of this style often needed a button hook to help fasten them. Particularly when the buttons were spaced fairly close together. So, a button hook was a good device to have. It was a small tool with a handle that had a long metal hook attached. The hook itself came in different diameters ranging from ¼ inches loops to 3/8 inches loops for larger buttons.

Image from Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections, via Wikimedia Commons.

Introduced in 1611 in France, it was used throughout Europe and patented in 1876. It was described in the patent as “an instrument to facilitate the buttoning of shoes, gloves and like purposes.” Men were the first to have a need for this tool when wearing spats, also known as spatter dashers, and gaiters were popular men’s fashions. The gaiter, which was made of cloth or leather went on top of the shoe like a wrap or covering. The buttons on the gaiter helped to keep it in place and the button hook was used to aid in fastening the small buttons. Women’s shoes at that time resembled men’s spats but with a higher heel. They were buttoned up past the ankle, often with more than 6 buttons. Button hooks were an important tool for changing one’s shoes in Victorian times.

Portability of a button hook was essential when traveling. Most shoe manufactures also produced a button hook that was included with the shoe and had the name of the manufacturer printed on them. Some shoes even had a small pocket or loop inside the shoe for keeping a hook, in case of any emergencies.

The button hook currently in the collections here at the Institute of Texan Cultures came with an past. Donated to the museum in 2004 along with several other items, it was donated by a former electrician who worked at the notorious Chicken Ranch Brothel. The Chicken Ranch operated in La Grange, TX from 1905 to 1973, and was the inspiration for the movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” and the song “La Grange” by ZZ Top. It isn’t entirely clear if the donor got the button hook from the brothel but, it definitely would have been a handy tool for buttoning up corsets and tight-fitting dresses.

Image by Simon Speed, via Wikimedia Commons.

Though this little device does not seem to be much, they have become very popular with collectors and there are even conventions held about these handy instruments. Collectors go in search of various types of button hooks made with different materials, such as handles made from mother of pearl, wood or brass. They are also looking for more ornate highly decorated handles, or some just collect to have one from all over the world.

Devices such as these may not be common anymore, but they could be handy for people who have difficulty using their hands. There are more modern types of button hooks available today made for the elderly or people with arthritis. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Blodgett, Debora E. “A Fascinating Fastener: The Button Hook- an Essential Garment Tool.” The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc. 69.3 (2016): 89.

Brandon, Sue. Buttonhooks and Shoehorns. Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications Ltd, 2008.

Buttonhook Society. A Compendium of Information on Buttonhooks and Associated Items. Maidstone: Buttonhook Society, 1995.

Object: Typewriter

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New York, NY
ca. 1893
Materials: Metal, plastic, wood

Charles Thurber’s “Chirographer” typewriter, image from http://www.officemuseum.com via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, with the emergence of new digital technology, older technology also known as low tech is slowly on the outs. The typewriter is turning into an obsolete machine, much like home telephones and cassette tapes. A patent for the first typewriter was introduced in 1714. In 1845 a working machine was produced. Invented by, Charles Thurber it had 36 plunger like keys that would strike the paper and print the letters on the paper. Most of the early machines were large, about the size of a table top. They were not easy to transport and were very heavy. In 1856, a typewriter made by the Wheatstone Co. was the first machine to be produced with individual keys, it struck the paper from the bottom. These early typewriters came in many different shapes and designs, many look nothing like the keyboard you see on your computer today.

The typewriter was not inexpensive to produce and would cost up to $100 at the time of its first introduction, equivalent to roughly $2,500 today. Typewriters rapidly become popular, especially in the business world. This created a need for cheaper typewriters to be produced. In 1856 a smaller, more portable typewriter known as the index typewriter was introduced. It was manufactured by the American Typewriter Company and was sold for only $5. It was cast in one piece that sat on a heavy base. It had an arc shaped plate at the top that displayed the letters and numbers. There was a roller in front that the paper went through that could be fed by turning a knob on the right side. There was a rubber band with letters under the plate and two keys that shifted between the rows to indicate what key was going to strike the paper. Under the plate was a small type guide that the chosen key would strike through.

Image from U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, via Wikimedia Commons.

This style of typewriter would eventually die out as more user-friendly, faster versions came about. Electric typewriters emerged during the 1920’s, but by the 1970’s the typewriter was becoming a machine of the past. The images of offices filled with women clicking away on the keyboard and the distinct sound of the keys striking the paper and the bell ringing when you have come to the end of your line is slowly fading away. These once noisy machines have been replaced by the more quieter and versatile computer. Today, some people like musician John Mayer do still prefer to use a typewriter. He likes how he is not interrupted by spell check or grammar suggestions. He states that he likes to see his mistakes. He can see his brain working through his writing process. It is not just musicians, but actors like Tom Hanks have kept the nostalgia alive. Tom Hanks personalizes his notes by typing them from a typewriter. There is a renewed interest in using typewriter especially with busking street poets. They can set up shop on a random street and share their words with others. Sometimes taking requests to add that artist element to a love note or thank you note. Though not as portable as the more modern computer or iPad. It is still nice to hear the nostalgic clicking sounds of the once beloved typewriter. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Allan, Tony, and Richard F. H. Polt. Typewriter: The History, the Machine, the Writers. New York: Shelter Harbor Press, 2015.

Roby, Henry W., and Milo Milton Quaife. Henry W. Roby’s Story of the Invention of the Typewriter. [Whitefish, Mont.]: Kessinger Publishing, 2007.

Science Museum (Great Britain). The Typewriter. London: Science Museum, 1978.

Weller, Charles Edward. Early History of the Typewriter. [Place of publication not identified]: Nabu Press, 2012.

Fiesta Medal Mania continues…

This April the ITC will once again be displaying Fiesta Medals for all our medal enthusiasts. In order to keep the tradition going strong we need your help! We are looking for donations of 2018 Fiesta Medals to display for the exhibit. If you  have a medal you’d like to donate to the display please send it in to the ITC along with the donation form posted below. Our address is:

Institute of Texan Cultures, UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, C/O: Collections, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd., San Antonio, TX 78205-3296

Let’s make this the best Fiesta Medal display yet!

Object: Shredder

20th century
Materials: Metal

Grinders and shredders would have been a staple kitchen tool in many American households prior to the widespread use of electricity. These tools were used to make a variety of food products, and were key to making everything from sausage to coffee. This particular grinder was reportedly used to make sauerkraut, meaning “sour cabbage” in German. Sauerkraut has been a staple food in the German diet since it was brought over from China in the 16th century. The Chinese started eating sauerkraut 2,000 years before the Germans. The Chinese made it by shredding the cabbage and fermenting it in rice wine. When the dish made it to Germany the Germans would shred the cabbage, then sprinkle salt over it and let it ferment in its own juices. It became very popular with Dutch sailors because sauerkraut does not need to be refrigerated to stay fresh and it helped prevent scurvy. Sauerkraut was then brought over to the United States, and Texas, with the German immigrants.

Sauerkraut is usually a finely sliced white cabbage that salt is added to help it ferment. The sugars in the cabbage are converted into lactic acid when it is fermenting, and it is commonly served on Reuben sandwiches or with sausage, or bratwurst.  A variety of spices and additional vegetables can be added to create specialty krauts, or even Korean style kimchi.

Before the hand-cranked style grinder, people had to cut the cabbage by hand with knives. This process took a long time; so many tools were invented to make it easier to cut cabbage. One of these tools was a cabbage cutter, which was made of a blade and a wooden box. It was arranged so that the blade would be slightly higher than the bottom of the box. Over time the design of the cabbage cutter was improved upon. It would soon have more than one blade, as many as three, and instead of being inside of a box it would be on a slider with something to catch the cabbage under it. After the cabbage cutter the grinder was invented. The grinder is able to attach to a table and all one would have to do is push the cabbage through with one hand while the other turned the crank and the cabbage again would fall into a container.

You can still find cabbage cutters and hand-cranked grinders today. The designs are basically the same as when they were first created, but they have an updated look. Cutters are now usually made with plastic or metal instead of wood, but one can still find some made of wood. Grinders today are usually powered by electricity. A food processor can be used to shred cabbage, but if you do not want to go through the hassle of shredding cabbage and then fermenting it for 4 to 6 weeks you can easily go to the store and buy some instead. [Illa Bennett edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Frias, Juana, Cristina Martinez-Villaluenga, and Elena Peñas. Fermented Foods in Health and Disease Prevention. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2017.

Bacon, Josephine. Preserves & Bottling: A Concise and Informative Introduction to the Skills of Preserving and Bottling. Secausus, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 1994.

Stoudt, John Joseph. Sunbonnets and Shoofly Pies; A Pennsylvania Dutch Cultural History. South Brunswick: A.S. Barnes, 1973.

Kaufmann, Klaus N., Annelies Schoeneck, and Annelies Schoeneck. The Cultured Cabbage: Rediscovering the Art of Making Sauerkraut. Burnaby, B.C.: Alive Books, 1998.

Object: Camera

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Rochester, NY
Materials: Metal, Glass, Wood

This object is a Seneca Competitor View Camera made by the Seneca Camera Manufacturing Company. The Competitor View was a part of the view camera series that the company created. View cameras are bigger and more complex to use than the roll-film cameras that were commonly used prior to digital cameras. The view camera was typically used for landscapes, architecture, and portraits. This type of camera captures the image on either an emulsion coated glass plate or sheet film. The Competitor View came in three different sizes 5 x 7, 6 ½ x 8 ½, and 8 x 10 inches.

The Seneca Camera Manufacturing Company started in 1895 and was based in Rochester, New York. The founders named the company after the Seneca-Iroquois tribe that was indigenous to the New York area. They often showed a Native American holding one of their cameras in their ads and brochures.Seneca mainly made simple cameras for the everyday person, including box cameras and folders, a folding camera.

Portrait of George Eastman (1854-1932) , founder of Eastman Kodak Company. Image via WikiMedia Commons.

The company did well until 1924 when it was sold to Conley Camera Company who was a subsidiary of Sears Roebuck & Company. Both the Seneca Camera Manufacturing Company and Conley Camera Company’s biggest competitor was the Kodak Company. The Kodak Company started off as the Eastman Kodak Company and founded by George Eastman who had the idea for a camera that was easier to handle when on trips when he was just 24 years old. Eastman was traveling to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, and a coworker suggested that he take pictures on his trip. At the time the only camera that he could take with him was a large view camera, while looking for a camera for his trip he became fascinated with photography and wanted to make the process easier.

Prior to the late 1800s, photographs were taken using a “wet plate” system that used panes of glass coated in a special liquid to make a negative. This negative had to be “developed” into a photograph within 15 minutes or the image would be lost. The invention of a “dry plate” system for cameras meant that images could be stored for extended periods before being developed, making it easier to take photos on the go. Eastman developed a way to mass produce large quantities of “dry plates” for his cameras. The company continued to gradually advance its technology and started using film rolls in 1883 instead of glass plates. The film rolls were first used in view cameras, but the camera’s themselves started to become smaller and lighter. The first small Kodak camera was a box camera and from there it continued to get smaller and cheaper until it turned into the disposable camera of the twentieth century. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:


Pritchard, Michael. A History of Photography in 50 Cameras. Richmond Hill, Ontario : Firefly Books, 2015.

Simmons, Steve. Using the View Camera. Brattleboro, Vt. : Echo Point Books & Media, LLC, 2015.

Wade, John. A Short History of the Camera. Watford [England]: Fountain Press, 1979.

Object: Sewing machine

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Sewing Machine
Materials: Wood, Metal

This object is a Singer Sewing Machine, it was made by the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Singer is an American company, founded by Isaac Merritt Singer and Edward Cabot Clark, that has been making sewing machines since 1851. The Singer sewing machine was the first sewing machine that was designed for home use, rather than factory production. The first machine had the basic eye-needle and lockstitch that was patented by Elias Howe. The basic eye-needle, also known as the universal needle it has a rounded point and is used to sew on woven or knitted fabrics. The lockstitch is the most basic stitch that creates a straight line by interlocking two threads together one from the top and the other from the bottom.

Isaac Singer was born October 27, 1811 the eighth son of poor German immigrants in Pittstown, New York. Isaac went to work as a mechanic and cabinetmaker when he was a young man. He designed his first invention when he was working for a manufacturing plant that made wooden type for printers. He created a machine that was better at carving the wooden type. It was in 1850 that Isaac saw a sewing machine being made and decided that he could make a better version of the machine.

Violet’s daughter, Ailsa Trundle is working on a small sewing project beside her mother. Image from State Library of Queensland, via Wikimedia Commons.

The first sewing machine that Isaac made was too bulky and expensive to be attractive to housewives, which were his target customers. But after awhile Isaac was able to come up with a mass production version, which had interchangeable parts and brought the price down to $10. In the 1850s that was equivalent to around $295 today. Isaac continued to upgrade the design and his company began offering the assistance of repair mechanics and sewing instructors. The company and the machine became a household name by 1863 when Ebenezer Butterick, a tailor, started selling the first graded dress patterns. Singer still makes sewing machines today, the only times that the company stopped manufacturing them was during World War I and II, when the factory was tasked with making weapons to support the war effort. Once the wars were over the company went back to making sewing machines and other accessories for them. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Askaroff, Alex. Isaac Singer. Sussex: Crows Nest Publications, 2014.

Bausum, Dolores. Threading Time: A Cultural History of Threadwork. Fort Worth, Tex: TCU Press, 2001.

Brandon, Ruth. Singer and the Sewing Machine: A Capitalist Romance. New York: Kodansha International, 1996.

Carlson, Laurie M. Queen of Inventions: How the Sewing Machine Changed the World. Brookfield, Conn: Millbrook Press, 2003.

Siegel, Beatrice. The Sewing Machine. New York: Walker, 1984.

Object: Iron

Materials: Metal, Wood

This object is a charcoal iron from Hungary. A charcoal iron is an early version of a modern clothes iron that we use today. The reason it is called a charcoal iron is, because it has a container inside its base where burning charcoal is placed to heat it up. The holes that line the base allow air to circulate and keep the charcoal embers burning. Sometimes there is a funnel or a chimney that directs the smoke through the top of the iron keeping the it away from the clothes.

Ladies working new silk by Master Chang Hsüan, early 12th century. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The charcoal iron is a step up from the stones, glass, and presses that were used in Europe when people first started ironing clothes. But there was a similar contraption used in Asia as early as the 1st century B.C. Women would iron clothes with a pot heated with coals, while stretching clothes taut. In the Middle Ages sad irons, also called flat irons, were being made out of stones and metals that are able to hold heat for a long period of time. Some of these materials were cast iron and soapstone. The way that these irons are used is by heating them up in a fire or on a stove top. The reason that this iron is called a sad iron is because; sald is an old English word for “solid.” In modern English the sad iron would be solid iron. Sad irons were still used even after the invention of the charcoal iron, up until the 1880s when the first electric iron was invented.

Kingsford’s Oswego Starch. Advertisement showing seven women around table ironing. Lithograph by Julius Bien & Co., New York, c. 1885. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Between the charcoal iron and the sad iron, the sad iron was preferred, because although the charcoal iron was easier to use, it produced a lot of smoke from the coals. The sad iron had its faults too. For one it was not easy to use. It was solid piece of metal with an attached metal handle, meaning that the handle would also heat up. To keep from burning your hands a cloth pad, like a pot holder, had to be wrapped around the handle. The iron would also cool down fast, which meant that you would have to wait for it to reheat, or you would need to have two for continuous ironing; one heating up while you ironed with the other. But around 1870 Mary Florence Potts of Ottumwa, Iowa made an iron with a detachable handle and a base with two points. This made it easier to handle without burning your hands and made it possible to move the iron back and forth without having to pick it up. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Martin, Andrew. How to Get Things Really Flat: [a Man’s Guide to Ironing, Dusting and Other Household Arts]. London: Short Books, 2009.

Irons, David. Irons by Irons. [Northampton, PA]: D. Irons, 1994.

Jewell, Brian. Smoothing Irons: A History and Collectors Guide [Eng.]. Tunbridge Wells: Midas Books, 1977.

Rankin, Margaret Cuthbert. The Art and Practice of Laundry Work: For Students and Teachers. London: Blackie, 1905.

Sambrook, Pamela. The Country House Servant. Stroud: The History Press, 2013.


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