The Volatile Helper

The Coleman Self Heating Gasoline Iron

Gone were the days of sweating by the wood fire stove in summer while waiting for a flat iron to heat. In the 1930s, this Coleman Self Heating Iron Model No 4A, with ‘Cool Blue’ enamel was the state-of-the-art ironing aid that every home needed. Heated with a gasoline fuel burner, which lit instantly and kept the iron constantly hot, it was a revolutionary home helper, promoted as having the ability to put ‘Happiness in Your Housework.’ It was advertised as ‘Less Work, Less Drudgery, Less Cost, Less Perspiration, Less Trouble, Less Care, Less Fatigue.’ But was it trouble-free?

Manufactured by the Coleman Quick-Lite Co. of Australia, this iron is an example of the best known and most common of more than 30 different models of irons the company released between 1929 and 1948. Their irons were widely used by housewives and housekeepers across Australia, Canada, and the United States. This example was owned by Mrs Maloney who lived in Brown Street, West Wallsend. She seems to have valued her iron, and carefully stored it with its stand, pump and instruction booklet.

Coleman’s fuel irons were efficient and lighter than previous irons, but they did tend to make ironing quite a risky business. When Mrs Maloney brought her linen in from the line and wanted to press it flat, she would have used the external pump to build up pressure in the iron’s fuel tank, then lit a match underneath the iron to ignite a flame inside, which distributed the heat over the iron’s surface. But she had to be careful because the volatile gasoline made irons like hers likely to cause fires or explode – perhaps not always ‘Less Trouble,’ as advertised.