Skip to content
(716) 648-4257

Available Day or Night

The History of the Modern Furnace

History of the Modern Furnace

Today’s home heating equipment is based on designs that go back hundreds of years; however, your home’s furnace doesn’t have to be outdated and costing you.

As the weather outside starts to turn colder, most Hamburg homeowners turn to their furnace to keep them and their family warm. Isn’t it crazy to think that that wasn’t always the case? As technology evolves, what we know as heating, seems to become better and better, but how did it all start? We are going to review the history of the modern furnace and how home heat, a thing we consider a necessity in Western New York, came to be.

In the Beginning: The Radiator and Bunsen Burner

When it comes to the history of the modern furnace, there is really no documented start place to when heat and staying warm first became a thing. As far back as noted, people were using some type of fire for relief from the cold. Fires weren’t the best solution, as you know if you have a fireplace, if you walk too far away from them, they provide little to no warmth.

Because fires didn’t allow for mobility, Franz San Galli saw the need for something else and invented the modern heating radiator in 1855. In 1885, Dave Lennox helped advance home heating with low cost coal burning cast iron radiators. Using natural convection, these radiators used the natural laws of rising heat to aid in heat distribution in a home. Because heat rises, these were usually installed in the basement, allowing homeowners a better chance at keeping more of the home’s warm air above the heater.

Despite cast iron’s convection, Americans still struggled to stay warm and continued to seek better ways to do so. In 1855, German scientist Dr. Robert Bunsen invented the Bunsen burner technology. It was the first open flame to produce heat without soot, it blended gas with air in a controlled manner before combustion, fueling the development of gas, propane, and oil fired heating systems. In some modern heating systems, this technology is still in use today in the form of pilot lights.

The Advance of Electricity

In 1882, electric heat came into the picture and played a major role in the history of the modern furnace. In 1905, Albert Marsh discovered the metal chromel, an alloy that was 300 times stronger than other types at that time. This lead to him inventing the first metallic alloy from which a high-resistance wire could be made that could be used as a durable and safe heating element. Often called the “father of the electrical heating industry”, Marsh’s heaters pushed electrical current through this metal heating element, converting electricity to distributable heat. Still to this day electrical heating technology has changed very little and is mostly produced the same way.

More than 100 years ago, in 1919, an African American inventor named Alice H. Parker designed an indoor heating system using natural gas that she called a “heating furnace.” Her innovative design, awarded Patent Number 1,325,905, is a central heating system that uses natural gas. Providing better temperature regulation and more substantial heat throughout homes, the device finally put an end to families huddling around the fireplace to stay warm.

Parker’s invention led to the first coal fueled, electric fan and ductwork distributed forced air, wall furnace around 1935. This was a gravity fed system that transferred heat from the furnace through large ducts and then returned the air back to the furnace to be heated again. Some old homes still utilize this form of heating.

Time for the Modern Furnace

Today’s furnaces continue to evolve. Some use oil, some natural gas, others use electricity, and there is even more modern heat pump and geothermal technologies available. The history of the modern furnace has led to advances in how heat distribution is a controlled as well, with programmable thermostats and SMART devices.

When you are selecting a new furnace, in this day and age, you have tons of options and things to consider. You should think about your energy source, the size you need for the area you need to heat, if the furnace is energy efficient (an even more modern type of heating), and all of the features and benefits you would like to utilize. We have come a long way from huddling around a fire or radiator, and like all new things, HVAC systems have gotten more complex with new features, over time. If advanced filtration is important to you, there are furnaces with that option. If you want zoned heating, that could also be a selection.

Today’s home heating equipment is based on designs that go back hundreds of years; however, your home’s furnace doesn’t have to be outdated and costing you. You can have safe, efficient heat by upgrading your furnace.

When it comes to winters here in Western New York, an effective and efficient heating system isn’t a luxury: it’s a necessity. At Duffett Plumbing, Heating & AC, we install new heating systems, allowing homeowners to stay warm and cozy throughout the winter.

To get a free in-home estimate on new heater installation in Hamburg, NY, contact us. We’d love to meet with you and discuss your heating options in time for winter.