The forebears to modern electric irons, flat irons or smoothing irons, later modified into what is more commonly known as ‘sad irons,’ were constructed by blacksmiths in the Middle Ages.
‘Sad’ is an Old English word for “solid,” and the term “sad iron” is used to distinguish heavy flat irons, usually weighing 5 to 9 pounds. The heft of a sad iron would proportionally effect the amount of heat held in the iron, and consequently how well the fabric would be pressed flat. The base of a sad iron is triangular shaped with a pointed tip to make it is easy to iron around buttons. They were heated on an open fire or a stove, and their metal handles had to be gripped with a thick potholder, rag, or gloves while ironing.
Detachable wooden handles were added later to sad irons in place of the soldered metal handles. Wooden handles would stay cool while the metal bases were heated. Sad irons, circa 1900, featured an asbestos lining, under a removable hood that fitted over the heated “core,” and prevented heat from traveling up into the handle and burning the hand of the user.