As a seamstress and someone who is very into clothing, irons are like a hairdryer – a must have. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Wrinkly clothes are a no-no. But just like a hairdryer, irons are a tool that are taken for granted. There was a time when irons did not exist. Can you believe it? I had never thought about life without them until the sister of Jay Raymond, author of Streamlined Irons, contacted me about her brother’s book. She sent me a copy over the holidays and I tucked it away in my library, not taking a look at it because, well, life got in the way. She recently emailed me and asked for my opinion of the book. I admitted that I hadn’t read it but that now might be a good time. Would her brother be interested in an interview? Maybe that would get me to read the book. Well, he was interested and below, he answers some questions about his book and shares his opinion on irons and their future. Be sure to read the interview all the way to the end because there might be a giveaway for you.
Q: Brief explanation of you, your history, and how you came to write Streamlined Irons.
A: I’m 58 and a native of Philadelphia. I’ve done several different jobs in my adult life: heating mechanic, maître d’, handyman, and now author. I am a graduate of the art program and former member of the faculty at the Barnes Foundation.
I’ve been collecting vintage electric irons since the early 1980s. It began with a box of old irons bought at a rummage sale. My first interest was irons of the 1930s and 40s when they were streamlined. Now I am collecting the earliest electric irons, i.e. those from 1890-1905 and certain others that pre-dated 1925.
In 2007, a fellow iron collector bought my collection and then hired me to produce a book about irons of the streamlined era. A year was spent in research and production, and Streamlined Irons was published in 2008.
Since 2007 I have been writing the blog Vintage Electric Irons.
Q: In the beginning of the book, you write about the iron’s function – to remove wrinkles and give fabric a smooth appearance. Can you touch upon how a desire for wrinkle-free clothes came about?
A: I don’t know! I suppose it is something inherently satisfying, just as being organized or accomplishing a goal is inherently satisfying. Smoothed fabric looks better to the human eye than wrinkled.
Q: What was streamlining and The Streamlined Era?
A: In the early 1900s, aerodynamics borrowed the term “streamlining” from hydrodynamics and used it to describe a goal of aircraft design: to minimize the drag created by the airplane’s surface. But streamlining came to mean more than an aerodynamic design. To streamline an object or a process came to also mean: “… to make [it] simpler or more efficient.” The term was used to describe the shape of things that never would fly or move through water. During this period, to streamline anything was to make it better, even if there was no discernable practical value. For clothes iron’s the streamlined era began circa 1934 and ended circa 1952.
Q: In your opinion, what was the biggest milestone in the iron’s history?
A: The biggest milestone in the history of irons is the incorporation of electric heating, which occurred circa 1890 and become popular in the 1910s. Prior to this, a stove had to be fired up and kept hot in order to heat the irons. This was quite uncomfortable, especially in the summer! Of course, women were more appreciative (than men) since they were the ones expected to do the ironing.
Q: What was your favorite iron?
A: I cannot say that I have one favorite iron. I am particularly attached to:
1. The first electric iron made in the U.S., the Carpenter, from St. Paul, Minnesota.
2. The “Torrid”, made by Beardsley and Wolcott of Waterbury, Connecticut. Made in 1932 it was the first streamlined iron, beating all others by two years.
3. The “Steam-King”, made by Knapp-Monarch of St. Louis, Missouri. Made in 1940 it is the grandest and most complex of the streamlined era irons.
Q: What do you think of irons today? What do you see for their future?
A: Irons of today are much, much better at their job than the irons of the streamlined era or before. They are lighter in weight; control temperature more precisely; have a finish that won’t stick to the clothes; turn off automatically when left unattended; and produce high quality steam. Irons still sell quite well, even though most people profess to never using one and that most clothes don’t need to be ironed. Though I think the age of widespread ironing will turn out to be roughly 1860-1960, there will always be a desire to wear sharply pressed clothes and thus, a demand for a good clothes iron. Perhaps, someday a type of energy yet to be discovered will replace electricity as the common source of heat in irons.
Jay was kind enough to offer three of his books for a giveaway. To win a copy of Streamlined Irons, first “like” my Facebook page and then tell me in the comments below your best iron story. Did you almost burn the house down? Did you once use your iron for your hair (I’m guilty of this!)? I want to hear it all. Be sure to leave your contact information as well.