Griswold Cookware

Collectors and collections, History and Stories

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Griswold Cookware

Collectors and Collections,
History and Stories

Griswold, Lodge, Wagner, Favorite, Wapak, and More!

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The “Mrs. Potts” Sad Iron

What is a “Sad” Iron?

Example of a cast iron sad iron with wood handle.

The sad iron got its name from its weight and heft. It played an important role in households of the past, similar to the electric irons we use today. These old irons were heated on wood or coal stoves, a testament to the era they belong to, and were then used to press linens and clothing. Some were heated on specialized contraptions or griddle-like pieces.

Collecting sad irons can be fun. Each iron comes with its own story and history. They vary in shape, size, and weight. The irons are not just collectibles but also make for interesting conversation starters and unique paperweights, adding a touch of history to your space.

One of the more common antique sad irons you may encounter in your cast iron hunt is the ‘Mrs. Potts’ marked sad iron. The ‘Mrs. Potts’ mark is a testament to the iron’s inventor.

Mary Florence Potts and her Sad Iron Design

Mary Potts, inventor of the antique vintage Mrs. Potts sad iron.
Mary Potts.

Mary Florence Potts of Ottumwa, Iowa, received a patent in 1871 for an improvement to the then-existing sad iron – namely, the mechanism by which a curved removable wooden handle could be removed from the iron itself.1 The patent application also specified that the iron would be filled with a non-heat-conducting material in its center and that both ends would be pointed.

The removable wood handle permitted a person to use the iron without burning flesh, as the wood did not conduct heat. It also enabled a person to heat several irons while one was in use, allowing for a more extended stint of ironing (oh, yay). The homemaker could remove the handle from the iron, which had become cold, and place it into an iron still warming on the stove.2

Mrs. Potts’ sad iron was so innovative that it was displayed at the 1876 World’s Fair in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.3

Women's pavilion at the 1876 World's Fair.
The “Woman’s Pavilion” at the 1876 World’s Fair, where Mrs. Potts’ sad iron was displayed.
1871 Patent for Mary Potts sad iron.
1871 application by Mary Potts for an improvement in sad irons.
U.S. Patent 113,448 April 4, 1871.

The patent was reissued on October 15, 1872.4

Mrs. Potts and her husband Joseph originally attempted to market the iron themselves, but the effort did not succeed.

Mary and Joseph Potts tried to manufacture and sell the newly patented irons as “Mrs. Potts Iron” attesting to the fact that a woman had invented and tested the product. Female customers certainly could trust that endorsement. Nevertheless, the effort failed and they filed for bankruptcy. Subsequently they started over in Philadelphia where the American Enterprise Company took over the iron’s manufacture and distribution.

Women of Mettle – Women Inventors Change the World, p. 106-08.

The earliest Potts sad irons were made by Enterprise and the American Machine Company. When the patent expired, other companies began making the iron as well. 5

Advertisment showing set of Enterprise sad irons.
Vintage advertisement showing the Mrs. Potts sad iron
Images retrieved from The Enterprising Housekeeper – Suggestions for Breakfast, Luncheon and Supper (1896), published by the Enterprise Mfg. Co.

Mrs. Potts Sad Iron Victorian Trade Cards

Back of Victorian Trading card showing the Mrs. Potts sad iron by Enterprise Manufacturing Company.
Image from

The “Mrs. Potts” sad irons were very popular and heavily marketed. They were widely shown on Victorian Trade Cards, which companies used to advertise their wares in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Consumers then and now enjoyed collecting different and decorative trade cards.

The backs of the trade cards typically touted the advantages of Mrs. Potts’s “cold handle” sad iron; the merchant selling the sad irons had their name and location on the back.

A quick search of eBay shows many Victorian Trading Cards advertising Mrs. Potts’s sad irons. Just for fun, here are a few for you to peruse!

Note: The sad irons pictured in the header are from the collection of Marg and Larry O’Neil of Tacoma, Washington.

  1. Mrs. Potts had received an earlier patent related to the sad iron, per her application (ref. 103,501), but I could not locate it online. If you find it, I’d love to see it!
  2. To see some terrific photos of Mrs. Potts’ sad iron set made by Enterprise Mfg. Co. as it was initially offered, please take a look here.
  3. E.g. The Innovative Woman, New Scientist Magazine, p. 12 May 24, 1984.
  4. U.S. Patent 5,102 (October 15, 1872).
  5. See, e.g., Sad Irons Lightened Work Loads, The Windsor Star, April 23, 1976.

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