The History of Furnaces in Hampstead, NC

Since the desire for warmth is such a primal human need, we can see the history and development of furnaces as emblematic of the history of human civilization. Residents in Hampstead, NC, can get a much deeper appreciation for furnaces by reading their history below.

Wood, Fire and Ancient Rome

Fire has warmed people since the earliest depths of our prehistory. After human beings first learned to burn wood, this remained the go-to source of fuel for indoor heating for many centuries. This basic process didn’t change in any appreciable manner until the 1880s.

Wood-burning indoor furnaces that expelled smoke through a chimney have existed in one form or another for many centuries, but a fascinating precursor to large-scale central heating systems comes to us from ancient Rome. To heat temples, public baths and other public buildings, the Romans devised a system called a hypocaust.

In this system, an underground furnace located beneath the floor of a building would heat steam and other gases. The gas would then warm the building’s floor through direct radiation or pass through a system of pipes and heat the building’s walls.

Large-scale marvels like this, if they existed at all after the fall of Rome, only existed in large public buildings. In 1742, however, Benjamin Franklin greatly updated the typical furnace design when he created a fireplace made of cast iron that had adjustable baffles, giving the owner control over airflow into the firebox and thus decreasing energy waste. Also, since iron radiated heat much more effectively than stone, Franklin’s design proved to be much more powerful than anything else that existed at the time.

Coal, Gas and the Industrial Revolution

Going into the 19th century, as industrialization picked up, indoor heating technology also advanced considerably. In 1885, David Lennox, whose name remains big in the world of heating systems to this day, invented the first modern radiator. Unlike the hypocaust mentioned above, Lennox’s system burned coal to create heat, which had finally become a more widespread heating source than wood by that year.

Thirty years earlier, in 1855, the German scientist Robert Bunsen created the Bunsen burner, which has remained a mainstay of scientific laboratories ever since. Bunsen’s invention matters in the history of heating because it is gas-powered and produces no soot. It was thus the first major step on the path to gas-powered heating.

Finally, in 1882, Thomas Edison opened up the world’s first electrical power station, which made electrical heating a possibility. Subsequently, in 1905, Albert Marsh co-invented a metal alloy called chromel, which was 300 times stronger than other metals available at the time and consisted of 80% nickel and 20% chromium. Since this metal was ideal for making high-resistance wires, it helped make central heating as we know it today possible.

Modern Furnaces

All of the above-mentioned inventions and discoveries coalesced together and made it possible for Alice Parker to invent and patent the first central heating system in 1919. This system was gas-powered and used air ducts to distribute warm air evenly around a home, making it essentially like the furnaces we have today. It drew in cold air, used burners to warm that air and even had the power to split a home into different heating zones.

Unfortunately, the invention was never put into widespread production and carried a few significant safety risks. By 1935, thanks to coal-fueled electric fans that moved heat around via forced convection, we got the furnace in more-or-less the form that it still takes today.

Since 1935, furnaces have become much safer, stronger and more efficient. A whole industry has emerged around them, consisting of troupes of skilled repair and maintenance service technicians. Even later inventions, like heat pumps, greatly expanded the power and versatility of indoor heating systems.

With the heating industry in its current stage, residents now have some truly marvelous tools to keep their homes warm. To get the most out of these tools, call Gideon Heating & Air Conditioning and ask about the heating services we offer, including Trane furnace installations.

Image provided by iStock

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