he technique of ironing originated in the east  in China. Metal pans filled with burning Charcoal were used for smoothing fabrics in China in the 1 st century BC. Later, it spread to Europe. From the 17th century, thick slabs of cast iron called sadirons were used. This word does not mean that ironing was sad, but that the irons were heavy or solid. These had wooden handles and while one was being used, another was heated over the fire.  But these did not have uniform heat and it was also hazardous to self while ironing.  A later design consisted of an iron box which could be filled with hot coals, which had to be periodically aerated by attaching a bellows. This type was on sale in the USA until at least 1902. Indian Kings had specialists in the palace to iron the royal clothes. Metal vessels with flat bottoms filled with hot water or heated metals came into use.

Later Chinese visitors perfected the art and it remained much a royal need.On February 16, 1858, W. Vandenburg, and J. Harvey, patented an ironing board that made pressing sleeves and pant legs easier (U.S. Patent 19,390). Later irons were heated by charcoal, petrol, gas, liquid or solid alcohol. The first electric iron was invented by Henry W Seely of America in 1882. In the same year an iron heated by a carbon arc was introduced in France, but was too dangerous to be successful. The early electric irons had no easy way to control their temperature, and the first thermostatically controlled electric iron appeared in the 1920s. The first steam iron was introduced in the 1950s.

This Kerosene operated Tilley Model DN 250n iron has cream-porcelained body. The 250n was introduced in the early '50's and sold until the late '70's. They have a regulating generator which enables the user to control the heat.  Interestingly, rural India and most street mobile launderers have chosen to stay with charcoal heated traditional irons.


The nattukottai chettiars were quick to borrow life style tools from the palaces due to their role as moneylenders to the kings and their connection overseas.  This community is said to be importers of fashion and fashion tools and introduce them to the royals. This 250n has been sourced from Chettinad, the land of the nattukottai chettiars and listed in the Steve Borgia’s Indian Heritage Museum.