What was a 'Shirt Polisher'?

Looking through family tree and came across a census for which the occupation stated was 'Shirt Polisher'.  There were also others listed as Shirt Machinist, shoe machinist etc. So I'm curious what the job would have been.

The census was in 1901, UK.

1 Answer

  • 9 months ago
    Favourite answer

    A shirt polisher was the operator of a "roll shirt polisher" machine. The machine pressed wrinkles out of cotton and wool/cotton blend shirts using a hot roller, in commercial laundries back in the late 1800s. The shirt was placed over a padded form, then the operator would use foot-pedals to lift the form into contact with the roller and shift it until the entire shirt was pressed. That required simultaneous operation of two treadles - one of them bi-directional. It also required considerable strength to keep the padded form firmly against the hot roller. Some presses used city gas to heat the roller, and consequently exposed the operators to toxic fumes as well as heat. There were also steam-heated versions.

    It was largely superseded by the early 1900s by another machine called a "bosom press", which combined pressure with steam to remove wrinkles and left an appearance closer to that of a garment ironed by a homemaker or domestic servant.

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