The 8 flat irons recovered from the wreck of the SS Republic exhibit various states of corrosion, many with their molded handles designed for extra grip, now warped and twisted--very likely the result of bearing the weight of fallen cargo.
Flat irons, also called sad irons, were used for pressing clothing. The word sad also meant heavy in the 19th century and these irons were indeed heavy in relation to their relatively small size. In addition, after they were heated by a fire on a stove, the handle would be red hot. Even after wrapping a towel or apron around the handle, a woman could often burn her hand and fingers when picking up the iron. In 1871, well after the wreck of the Republic, Mary F. Potts came to the rescue, patenting an iron that was much lighter and featured a detachable wooden handle.
Relative to the larger quantities of assorted cargo found at the site, the limited number of irons discovered suggest they were possibly intended for shipboard use--for the passengers' personal wear and perhaps by the crew preparing the dining linens.