History of Furnaces
You come home from work and notice your living room is chilly. What do you do? You turn up the thermostat and wait for the room to warm up. But have you ever thought about the History of Furnaces or how they were invented?
Since ancient times, people had to find ways to keep warm to survive cold and in some cases harsh winter temperatures. Over thousands of years, heating has evolved from campfires, indoor fires, fireplaces and stoves to our modern systems.
Ancient Underfloor Heating
Around 1000 BCE, Koreans used a type of underfloor heating called an ondol. A wood fire burned under a masonry floor. The floor absorbed the heat and heated the home.
Once chimneys were invented in the 12th century, fireplaces started replacing hearths. A hole in the center of the roof let smoke escape. Chimneys first originated in Norman castles. They had a slanted sidewall flue, and the fireplaces were located on one side of a room. As chimney designs evolved, later models had multiple flues and fireplaces.
In the 17th century, the stove was invented. Benjamin Franklin created a safer, more efficient model. Later designs included the base-burner stove by Eliphalet Nott in 1833 and an airtight stove by Isaac Orr’s in 1836.
Wood was the main fuel source for fireplaces and stoves. Coal was not widely used until 1885 and was popular for the next 50 years.
The Bunsen Burner
In 1855, the Bunsen burner was invented by German scientist Dr. Robert Bunsen to use in his laboratory at the University of Heidelberg. The burner produced the first open flame with no soot! It combined gas with air before igniting. We still use this technology today in our furnace pilot lights.
Steam & Electric Heat
The modern radiator was invented in 1855 by Franz San Galli in St. Petersburg. Radiators were usually installed in the basement, and as the heat rose it heated the house.
Nearly thirty years later, Thomas Edison invented the electric heater in 1883.
After the Civil War, boilers, radiators, and steam or hot water were used to heat homes. the White House and Capitol building had steam heating systems installed in the 1840s. However, most people used hot water radiators in their homes rather than steam because felt they were safer.
In the late 1800s, Dave Lennox manufactured a steel coal-fired furnace with cast iron radiators. This type of furnace provided much more efficient heat. Families no longer had to sit by the fireplace or stove to keep warm!
Warm Air Systems
Did you know that a warm air central heating system was patented by Alice Parker as early as 1919? In her system, heat moved through ducts by natural convection. By 1939, an entire home could be heated by a coal furnace and an electric fan which blew warm air through ductwork.
By the middle of the 20th century, home heating options included boilers and furnaces fueled by oil, propane, natural gas, and electricity. Apartments often used wall-mounted or recessed electric heaters. We still use these today.
Other home heating systems include heat pumps. The pumps are either air-sourced or geothermal. Blower motors blow warm air through a homes’ ductwork.
Today, just like our ancient ancestors, people still use wood burning fireplaces and stoves, although usually not for their primary heat source. There is something special about gazing into the flames, smelling a wood fire, and maybe roasting marshmallows or weiners. Gas fireplaces are also a popular option for auxiliary heat. A newer option, solar heating arrived in the 1990s, harnessing the power of the sun.
Keeping Warm Today
Modern home heating systems are automatic, quiet and efficient, and use a variety of fuel sources including electricity, gas, oil, wood, and solar power. By simply adjusting a thermostat up or down, we can adjust the heat in any room to our liking. Unlike early men, we no longer have to huddle around a stove or fireplace to keep warm.
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