Thursday, March 2, 2023

The History of the Ironing Board

Amber Lemus Christian Author
Blogger: Amber Lemus

Photo by CottonBro Studio
The ancient Asian method
If you’ve ever tried to iron something without an ironing board, then you know how difficult it can be. (Believe it or not, there is in fact a reason that irons have a warning that says DO NOT iron clothes while you are wearing them!") The ironing board seems to be a simple invention, but it makes an everyday chore far more efficient, and the history behind it is more interesting than you might think.

Ironing has been a chore usually done by ladies for centuries. Ancient Asian cultures would sometimes iron with the fabric held taught by two people. During the Viking era, archeologists have discovered what appear to be smoothing boards made from whale bone buried with Viking ladies. Later on, boards small enough to be held on the lap were most common. “Press boards” as they were known, were used not only for pressing laundry, but also for pressing seams during the sewing process.
Whalebone smoothing board from the Vikings.

As I’m sure many of you have witnessed, a table or board supported by two chairs can be used to accomplish the task, and was a popular method before the invention of the folding ironing board we know today. Eventually, folks figured it would be faster and better quality work if there was a device designed with a suitable shape for pressing things such as trousers and shirts. The first ironing table was patented in 1858 by W. Vandenburg and J. Harvey, and was designed mainly for men’s clothing.

A Canadian by the name of John B. Porter invented the first truly portable ironing table. It was a fold-able model with detachable press boards specifically for sleeves.

Sarah Boone
Public Domain

One notable improvement to the ironing board was invented by Sarah Boone in 1892. Sarah had been born to enslaved parents in North Carolina. At some point, she gained her freedom, perhaps through her marriage to a free African American man. They later migrated North, where Sarah began working in a dressmaker shop, and her husband worked as a bricklayer. Sarah’s work in the fiercely competitive dress market is what spurred her adjustments to the ironing board. Her design catered to women’s garments, rather than just men’s, with a narrower, curved board that could handle the type of skirts and dresses that were in style at the time. It was reversible, so that both sides of the sleeve could be ironed without wrinkling the first side. Her model was also padded to prevent the lines and creases that inevitably came when using just a wooden board. She even made it collapsible for easy storage. Sarah is credited as the second African American woman to receive a patent from the U.S. Patent office. 


Drawing from Sarah Boone's Patent

The next notable improvement was the material. Many manufacturers tried wood and metal, but the metal tended to rust or even buckle under the intense heat of a hot iron press. The wooden boards would warp. It was the J.R. Clark company who began manufacturing ironing boards out of a mesh metal top, which allowed the steam to escape, preventing warps, rust and buckling. By 1940, pretty much all of the manufacturers were using all metal to make the collapsible ironing boards. The designs changed very little after that. 

Now if they would only invent a way to keep it from screaming like a mountain lion every time it opens...

Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Lemus inspires hearts through enthralling tales She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives near the Ozarks in her "casita" with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a boy mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. Great post! One of my jobs while growing up was ironing pillow cases. When my mom and dad married, one of the gifts they received was a set of about four dozen pillow cases on which my grandmother and great aunt had tatted edging.

    1. Wow, Linda. That's quite a wedding gift!!! I've not owned four dozen pillowcases in my whole life!

  2. Thank you for posting today. Ironing was my job as a kid too, thankfully there were only ever a few shirts and dresses to do. I am thankful for the ironing boards, and glad that the standard size is still available. I have tried the kind that hang over a door and the tabletop versions and decided that they were just too small to do a proper job. And they come in handy for other things as well, like an impromptu extension for a dining table.

  3. Amber, who would have known there was such an interesting story behind the ironing board. Quite an endeavor to find just the right type of construction and material to make it work for all kinds of men's and women's clothing. It's also interesting that a formerly enslaved African American woman is credited with a design that is virtually the same we have today. Thanks for the insight!

  4. Great post! I can remember running through the house, after my mom told me not to, and running into the ironing board that had a hot iron on it, and yes I got burned. So glad we really don't have to iron these days.