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Facilities in homes, early-mid 20th Century


The early electric iron and ironing, 1930s and 40s

early electric iron

This page describes early electric irons and the process of ironing with them which was more laborious than with today's modern conveniences and not necessarily safe. It is not technical and is written from the viewpoint of everyday users in the past.


By the webmaster: her early recollections with discussions from others who lived at the time

The early electric iron

In the 1940s and early 1950s my mother used an early electric iron. It was heated by electricity and was a far cry from the old flat irons that she had been used to before she was married. They had to be heated on the kitchen range.

The electricity supply for the iron

The early electric irons were not plugged into wall sockets, but into ceiling sockets of light bulbs. The following photo shows one of the special adapters which enabled a light bulb to receive power from one side and the iron (or any other electrical device) from the other.

Early ceiling adapter to take an electric iron as well as a light bulb, standard in 1940s England and possibly before

Early ceiling adapter to take an electric iron as well as a light bulb. Photo courtesy of Desmond Dyer

This arrangement often led to fuses blowing due to overloading the electric system. It did, though, have the advantage that it kept the lead well out of the way of the iron and the clothes.

I only have a vague memory of the ceiling adapter, as the irons were later wired for the round pin wall plug that fitted into wall sockets. The flex was covered with rubber.

Old round pin electric plug for a wall socket, 1940s and 1950s UK

Round pin electric plug for a wall socket, found in my mother's effects

At that time, no electrical devices were sold with plugs attached. Everyone had to buy plugs separately and fit them themselves, which they did not necessarily do safely.

The ironing process

My mother's electric iron was not thermostated.

Basic electric iron, as used in 1940s England

Early electric iron, photographed in the Bakelite Museum

My mother had to keep testing it in the time-honoured way of dabbing it with a licked finger and judging its temperature from the sound it made.

Neither was there any mechanism for damping the clothes. So again, my mother had to use the other time-honoured way of bringing in the clothes from the clothes line at the point when they were not quite dry and rolling them up to keep that moisture in.

The ironing board

Ironing boards had wooden frames - not that my mother ever possessed such a thing. Like her mother before her, she used the kitchen table with an old blanket, folded to pad it out and an old sheet on top.

Old ironing board on a wooden frame, as used before plastics and plastic coatings became common place

Ironing board on a wooden frame. Photographed at Fagans Museum of Welsh Life

The clothes horse

My mother used a clothes horse to hang the ironed clothes over for airing. It had a wooden frame and folded flat for storage.

Old wooden clothes horse, as used before plastics and plastic coatings became common place

Clothes horse on a wooden frame. Photographed at the Black Country Museum

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