One of the first female African Americans to receive a patent for her invention of the ironing board in 1892, Sarah Boone was born in New Bern, North Carolina, the child of an enslaved couple. She earned her freedom through marriage to a free black man, James Boone, in 1847. They had eight children, and the family migrated through the Underground Railroad to New Haven, Connecticut, before the Civil War.
Boone established her own dressmaking shop while her husband labored as a bricklayer.
Like many African Americans who were confined to jobs requiring significant manual labor, Boone used her imagination to devise ways to make her work more streamlined and efficient. Thus, the ironing board, which, Boone wrote in her patent application, was devised "to produce a cheap, simple, convenient, and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies' garments." The padding and curved areas of the board allowed the dressmaker to move the garment around and iron without causing more creasing. The board also folded, making it easier to move around and put away.
Before that, dressmakers ironed clothes on a wooden plank set across two tables or chairs, which worked for large areas of fabric such as wide skirts or tablecloths, but didn't work for more fitted garments like blouses and corsets.
Although it was illegal at the time to teach African Americans to read and write, Boone learned in her late 40s through a program at her church in order to rectify that disadvantage. This allowed her to apply for a patent on her ironing board, and she was subsequently awarded U.S. Patent No. 473,653.
Although Boone and her husband earned enough to own their own home, there is no indication she was made wealthy from her invention. Boone died of Bright's disease, an autoimmune disorder of the kidneys, on October 29, 1904. Her ironing board was commercialized by other corporations and is considered the prototype of what we still use today.
PopUP CleanUP is a female, African American owned company. We celebrate our heritage and look forward to paving the way for new generations of black women to achieve equity and success.