Today in 1892, African American inventor Sarah Boone of New Haven patented an ironing board, which was the precursor to the modern appliance residing in many of our homes today.
When Sarah Boon was living in New Haven, the fashion of the time was for women to wear corsets. Since the late-1800s, New Haven was the nation’s leading supplier of these undergarments. Corsets squeezed in a woman’s midsection, giving them the shape of an hourglass. Sleeves on these dresses were fitted too. Sarah Boone was a dressmaker in New Haven, who made such dresses. And like many other dressmakers in her town, she found them challenging to iron. Commonly, clothes were pressed by using an iron on top of a plank placed on top of two chairs. This arrangement was not suitable to iron such fitted clothes. So at some point in her career, Sarah Boone aimed to find a better way.
On April 26, 1892, Sarah Boone was awarded U.S. Patent 473,653 for her invention, which she describes as “a cheap, simple, convenient, and highly effective device,
particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies’ garments.” This ironing board had many of the elements that are in modern ironing boards today, particularly it narrowed at the top, it was padded, and it was collapsable. She also made a special arm to iron sleeves and fitted waist-seams. Sarah Boone’s achievement made her one of the first Black women in the country to receive a patent. She was probably the first in Connecticut.
Sarah Boone lived at 30 Winter Street in New Haven, which was located right outside of Yale University. This region of town off of Dixwell Avenue was part of the small but vibrant Black community there. Sarah Boone was born enslaved in North Carolina around 1832. She married James Boon (later Boone), who was a brick mason, who probably bought her freedom. The Boone family moved to New Haven by 1856, witnessing the Civil War in the North and experiencing the brief period of Reconstruction. During, and in the years immediately after Reconstruction, a large spate of patent applications were filed by African American inventors. Sarah Boone was one of the successful ones.
As a result of her work, every Black History Month, her name is included in the pantheon of Black inventors, which include George Washington Carver, Garrett Morgan, and Lewis Latimer. Yet, very little is known of her, since she left no papers or letters or a verified picture. That said, she left a patent, which indisputably highlights her ingenuity and her extraordinary life in the Elm City.
________ Ainissa Ramirez
Ainissa Ramirez, “Sarah Boone Invents a Better Ironing Board,” Connecticut Explored
Sarah Boone Biography (1832–1904) Biography.com
Ainissa Ramirez, “New Haven’s Hidden Figure: Sarah Boone,” New Haven Independent