Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ironing Clothes in the 1950's

Another Trip Down Memory Lane... All In The Family...

I was born in 1951 and I have never lived without electricity, though in my very early childhood, our electricity was produced by a wind charger. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) lines hadn't yet been brought out south of Johnstown, Nebraska.

I never saw a sad iron in use, but there were a couple of old sad irons in our attic at Rose, Nebraska, where we moved when I was six. I suppose some housewife stored them there when she got electricity and an electric iron.

ironI do remember life before clothing care was revolutionized by steam irons, polyester blends and clothes dryers. In the mid-1950's (as early as I can remember), "wash and wear" garments made of a cotton-acrylic blend had just recently been introduced. Many garments were still 100% cotton and they required ironing, especially if they were dried on the clothesline as nearly all clothing was.

A few devices had been invented to help with the wrinkle problem. My mother had stretchers that were large adjustable wire rectangles. She slipped a stretcher into each leg of wet pants so they would dry with less wrinkles.

sprinkler topWhen it was time to iron, the clothes had to be sprinkled. My mother had a metal stopper with holes in it like a salt shaker top. She filled a soda bottle with water, put the stopper on top, and sprinkled water over the clothes that needed ironing. Then she rolled each garment so the dampness would diffuse and packed it into the clothes basket to sit for a little while before ironing.

I guess spray bottles hadn't been invented yet. Sprinkle bottles were used by all the housewives. You could buy the sprinkle tops for soda bottles at any dime store. They had a cork base to fit the soda bottle's opening tightly. If you were a fancier person, you could buy a ceramic sprinkle bottle with a whimsical shape.

I don't remember my mother ever keeping the sprinkled clothing in the refrigerator, but I've heard that housewives did that. The coolness delayed the mildew and sour odors that could develop if clothing wasn't ironed the same day that it was sprinkled.

I think I might have been six or seven years old when Mama taught me to iron the handkerchiefs and pillow cases. Keeping up with the ironing was a huge chore and it helped a bit to have me do those few things. She was a better woman than I am. I am not sure I would have bothered with ironing my husband's everyday handkerchiefs.

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Neurotic Mom said...

Oh i remember having to iron hankerchiefs, pillow cases and even the bed sheets ugh that could be why i hate ironing so much now. I don't iron anything unless it absolutely needs it, like hubby having to dress up for work.

Genevieve said...

I only iron things right before I wear them. I hardly ever iron anything in advance. And like you, Mom, I'm real happy if I don't have to iron it at all.

Larry Ayers said...

I remember my mother using a sprinkle-bottle during the late fifties. A cork-lined insert in a Cliquot Club soda bottle, I think.

the.chronicler said...

My mom used a sprinkle-bottle in the 1960s while I was growing up.

Tayfusion said...

Why did clothes have to e sprinkled with water before ironing? Did it producemore steam or something that way? Thanks.

Genevieve said...

Hi, Tayfusion. The clothes we're talking about sprinkling were made of 100% cotton or perhaps 100% linen (less common). Both of these fabrics tend to wrinkle when laundered.

Steam irons hadn't been invented yet, and apparently spray bottles hadn't been invented either.

Such garments were sprinkled with water and rolled up, in preparation for ironing. The dampness was absorbed evenly throughout the garment while it was rolled.

When the slightly damp fabric was pressed with a hot iron, the wrinkles came out. The same effect would be produced today by using a spray bottle of water and/or a steam iron.

Tayfusion said...

Thank you so much for the prompt and informative reply. I really appreciate it. I was watching an old movie that I've seen a hundred times and there is a scene where a woman was sprinkling a substance (thanks to you, I know it was water now) and rolling the clothes before she ironed them, and I always wondered what she was doing. Thanks again!

shelly said...

This brought back so many happy memories of when I was a little girl, ironing beside my mom -- thank you so much for posting this!

istanbulred said...

I just got a copy of my grandmother's diary from 1950 with so many references to "sprinkling the clothes." Googled this and found your blog. Thank you for the explanation! I thought perhaps it was some form of dry cleaning but now it makes sense. And I'm thanking God for wash & wear, wrinkle-free clothes!

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of my grandmother's ironing board in the basement, which always had a coke bottle with a stopper on it. I think I still have one that belonged to my mother -- think I'll bring it out for my sewing room.

Maureen said...

I found this "Googling" for why people put clothes in the refrigerator in the 60s. My mother did not but neighbors or relatives must have. We must have had a very early steam iron when I learned to iron in the mid 60s. I remember sprinkle bottles but not in our home. I'd forgot about the metal things for pants. My mother used those on my father's casual pants when I was very, very young, probably before we had a clothes dryer!

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