It’s time for this month’s Laundry Spotlight (here’s why).  Though most of the world of pre-modern laundry pertains to women, this one’s for the men: A Heatless Trouser Press.





Leahey’s Heatless Trouser Press came to us from the estate of Rose K. Dawson of Rockville, and was likely used by one or more members of her family.  It’s an extremely simple device, made mostly of sturdy cardboard (this example is missing its four steel clamps), and is nice and compact; when folded flat, it measures 16″ by 14″. It’s also one of those artifacts that would be somewhat mysterious to modern eyes, were it not for the convenient label prominently featured on the front:

20130703112115_00001Leahey’s Heatless Trouser Press – Patented October 6th, 1914 – Any Infringement Will Be Severely Prosecuted.  While You Sleep – While You Travel. “Always Creased.”  Directions: Open press, fold trousers evenly, lay out smoothly on center board, one leg on top of the other, (enclose plain trousers legs entirely; cuffs extend, as illustrated) dampen edges of trousers liberally; close lower flap with clamps; stretch legs and close upper flap with clamps. Press now doing its work.

The natty gentleman in the center is certainly an advertisement for the press’s good work, and the 1914 patent gives further instruction on how to correctly use it – but there’s not much here about why you should use one of these instead of a traditional iron.  This advertisement (below – click to view in larger format) from the June 1917 issue of “System” elaborates, “No more hot tailor’s irons can press my trousers.  That scorching heat shrivels the life right out of the cloth, while the damp steam rots the fabric.”  Even better, using the press “restores baggy knees, smooths away wrinkles and gives your trousers a knife-like crease from belt to boot,” and helps you to achieve that important “prosperous look.”  “Be the best-groomed man in your set.  You will be surprised at the effect on others and on yourself. The shoddy man gets the shoddy job.”  And it only cost a dollar, payable at one cent a month!  Who wouldn’t want one of these?
20130703111134_00001(Lest you think the gigantic iron threatening our hero’s extra pair of trousers is an exaggeration, here’s a similar item from our collection, donated by Ruth Wilcox: a ten-inch long tailor’s goose or iron, weighing in at fourteen pounds.)


When researching 19th and early 20th century laundry methods for our exhibit, I was struck by two points that were heavily emphasized in advice manuals, instruction books, and advertisements: First, that doing the laundry was a dreadful task to be avoided at all costs; and second, that many laundry techniques were very hard on clothing, with washboards, caustic soaps, and irons the primary culprits.  The Heatless Trouser Press, if it worked as well as the copy claimed, did away with both the chore and the costly damage to the fabric.

Interestingly, this is one of the few laundry-related products I’ve encountered that was aimed at men as both customers and users.  Some ads went the “buy this product to make your wife/maid/laundress happy!” route, but almost every part of the days-long laundry process was the province of women.  However, the implication here is that the man himself (or his valet) has sole charge of the pressing of the trousers; indeed, the 1917 ad goes so far as to proclaim the Heatless Trouser Press “the greatest money-saving, time-saving and labor-saving invention for men since the advent of the safety razor.”

Laundry exhibit status: Neither of these pieces (the Press or the tailor’s goose) are in the display, but there are many, many other types of irons to admire.