The history of iron in Russia
Since ancient times people took care of their clothes so that they looked nice and neat after washing. For these purposes the iron was invented. In the opinion of archeologists, the oldest of them is a flat heavy stone. Slightly wet clothes was spread on its relatively smooth surface and was pressed by another stone until it became dry. As a result, some wrinkles disappeared.
As early as in the 4th century BC ancient Greeks invented a way of pleating clothes of fabric with the help of hot metal rod that looked like a rolling-pin. Two centuries later Romans beat wrinkles out of clothes with metal hammer.
In Russia, hard work of laundress also did not end up after washing – clean, but wrinkled clothes waited for ironing. Before the iron was invented, it was made with the help of the beater, on which clothes was wound, and thick plate with notches and handle that was moved back and forth. Edges of the plate touched fabric, stretching and smoothing wrinkles. This implement for ironing in different regions was called "rubel", "pralnik", "pranik", "granchak", "rebrak", "raskatka". At that time fabrics were hand-made and were so coarse that after washing they were stiff. The treatment of them with beater not only removed wrinkles but also made them softer. Carvers decorated beaters with quaint patterns.
Clothes in Russia was also ironed with "gavkas" – glass balls, cut bottoms of bottles, iron mugs filled with hot water.
In the Middle Ages another implement was used. It looked almost like an ordinary frying pan: hot coals were laid inside the iron brazier with handle and clothes was ironed with "frying pan". It is clear that this "iron" wasn't convenient and safe: to work with it was uncomfortable, sparks and petty coals constantly flew out of brazier, leaving spots and holes on clothes.
However, it was long time before life-saving properties of electricity was discovered, so it was only possible to improve the same principle: heating metal with the help of coals inside or fire outside.
In the middle of the 20th century so called "coal" irons could be seen. They looked like small stove: burning coals were laid inside the body of the iron. For better draught holes were made on sides and sometimes iron had a pipe. One blew in holes or waved with iron from side to side to rekindle coals. As far as "coal" irons were heavy, ironing turned to real power exercise. Old iron of a tailor could weigh 15 kg. That couldn't be compared with modern models.
The first written record about iron in Russia is found in the book of tsarina Eudoxia – the wife of Michael Fyodorovich Romanov in 1636: "In January of 31 days, 5 altyns were given to blacksmith Ivanka Trofimov and he made iron for tsarina's apartment for this money".
Small irons were casted as well and they served for smoothing laces and other small details. Irons were expensive. While casting, they were decorated with ornaments, they were passed through generations from mother to daughter. An iron in a house was a symbol of wealth and prosperity of its owners. Sometimes an iron was placed on a napkin next to the samovar as a decoration in a visible place and as if by chance but proudly was shown to all guests. For the most notable persons irons could be made in different quaint forms. They could be inlaid with copper and for more expensive irons – even with silver. Usually handles were made of wood and they could be smooth or figure.
In the 18th century irons in Russia were manufactured mainly at Demidov's factories. Then they invented irons with removable liner that was heated, then snatched out of fire with a special rod and set into a hollow body of the iron. Cast-solid iron was produced in Russia until the mid of 60s of the 20th century and the youngest model with two removable bases was produced in 1989.
In 1868 a musical iron was patented – it made melodic sounds during ironing.
This merciful invention was intended to make a work of seamstresses and pressers less exhausting. Handles and bodies of these irons were decorated with colourful enamel, carving and even decorative painting. It was quite popular: fashion for this wonder of engineering lasted until 20s of the 20th century.